Work to begin on next stage of Fort Williams arboretum

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CAPE ELIZABETH — Town councilors have approved part of the fourth stage of a 14-part Fort Williams arboretum project.

According to Fort Williams Park Foundation President Lynn Shaffer, key objectives of the arboretum are restoring damage caused to the landscape by invasive plants, improving open space amenities and access to visitors, and fostering educational resources, community participation and stewardship.

The most recent of the three arboretum sites completed was the children’s garden, which is next to the fort’s tennis courts and pond.

The fourth stage, slated to be completed by 2019, is called the Cliff Walk Landscape. It will add an “informal” 961-foot walking path overlooking the shorefront, with a view of Portland Head Light. The trail will link the completed cliffside and lighthouse view sites at either end of the fort’s paved Cliff Walk Trail.

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Jed Talbot of OBP Trailworks will construct the path.

Between the two sites are 2 acres of densely vegetated and rugged terrain. In 2015, landscape architect Regina Leonard developed a management plan to guide the transformation of this landscape, including the gradual removal of invasive plants, on which the success of the Cliff Walk Landscape depends.

Arboretum Director James McCain said the Fort Williams Park Foundation hopes the trail will attract those who “like to be deeper into nature and avoid the crowds (on the existing Cliff Walk).”

The trail will link four destination areas: DeHart Overlook, Sullivan Overlook Picnic Area, Oak Dell, and Williams Picnic Area.

The plan also includes adding two interpretive signs. One will map the site’s trails, destination areas, and plant communities, and the other would depict a “web of connections” between plant, animal, and insect species and their habitats.

The foundation hopes to have 586 feet of the trail and three of the four destination areas – Phase I – well underway this fall. Phase II will complete the trail and final destination area. With approval from the Town Council, the foundation hopes to start Phase II in 2018.

McCain said the foundation had hoped the council would approve the Cliff Walk Landscape in its entirety on Aug. 14. Instead, it only approved Phase I.

“I’m not comfortable with approving anything beyond what the total plan 2017 expenses are,” Councilor Katharine Ray said. “The implication is that if the money is not raised … that the town is somehow responsible.”

Ray’s motion to approve the foundation’s planned 2017 expenses and look at future plans at a later date was unanimously approved.

The foundation on Aug. 7 had received nearly $84,000 in funding for the project; nearly $29,000 was contributed from 32 donors. The rest comes from eight grants from seven charitable foundations: the Bafflin Foundation, Bangor Savings Bank Foundation, Cricket Foundation, Davis Conservation Foundation, Fisher Charitable Foundation, Phineas W. Sprague Memorial Foundation, and Rines Thompson Fund.

Of that, about $18,000 has been spent on surveying the land, forming a landscape management plan, and beginning invasive plant management, which left the foundation with $66,000.

Total planned expenses for Phase I are estimated at nearly $56,000 and total planned expenses for the 2018 Phase II are almost $9,500, leaving the foundation with a surplus of about $600 at the completion of the Cliff Walk Landscape project.

Although the town has no financial obligation, the foundation is required to get council approval for each stage because Fort Williams is town-owned land.

The plan concept was already approved by the town’s Fort Williams Park Committee this spring. The foundation planned to report funding progress to the committee as the project progresses rather than repeatedly returning to the council for approval.

“The first two years (of the project), would be site improvements, destination areas, and signage, which we already have all of the funds for,” McCain said. “The other work is all restoration work.”

Remaining restoration work, planned for 2018-2022, is estimated to cost between $30,000 and $40,000 a year.

James McCain, arboretum director for the Fort Williams Park Foundation in Cape Elizabeth, said a new trail will attract visitors who “like to be deeper into nature and avoid the crowds (on the existing Cliff Walk).”
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