A 23-acre parcel at Webster Street and Alfred Plourde Parkway in Lewiston may be developed for recreational use, including walking trails. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

LEWISTON — A slice of land between Webster Street and Alfred Plourde Parkway could soon become a recreational amenity with walking trails. 

If the necessary approvals are granted, a city property at 325 Alfred Plourde Parkway will combine with a Maine Department of Transportation parcel off Webster Street to create the area.

At the City Council meeting this week, City Administrator Ed Barrett said the parcel has the potential to be a quiet and scenic escape in the middle of the city. Someone walking on a future trail might not feel like they’re in Lewiston at all, he said.

Preliminary designs show a series of walking trails on the property, with additional parking off Alfred Plourde Parkway and Webster Street, and neighborhood entry points near Jan’s Boulevard and Denise Street.

The plans also call for a small gazebo at a clearing at the crest of a hill and for a “bog bridge” or boardwalk over some wetlands. 

Photos included in the City Council’s packet show the conditions of the land. One view, taken from the top of a hill on the Maine Department of Transportation mitigation site, is described as having “sweeping views of the surrounding area.” 

Another states that “the surrounding topography and vegetation create excellent sound buffers from roads and nearby neighborhoods.”

The MDOT land, splitting the city parcel, is a wetland that was created as mitigation during the construction of Alfred Plourde Parkway, but Barrett said in a recent memo, “in order to best develop this property for open space and recreational purposes, the MDOT property should be integrated into the overall parcel.”

The City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to accept a governor’s deed to the Webster Street property. The entire parcel will be about 23 acres after the MDOT land transfer is complete. 

City planning staff said there are some “informal” trails already on the land, and at least one skirting the property that is used by snowmobilers. However, the city would enhance, install and maintain the trail system, Barrett said.

“Work to design and install the trails will not be undertaken until we’ve received approval for the proposal from the National Park Service. That may take some time,” he said. “Once we have approval, it will likely be a several-year process to design and build the trail system.”

While city officials see the end result as a valuable recreational amenity for the surrounding neighborhoods, the circumstances that led to the concept are complicated. 

The city’s portion of the land is being dedicated as a replacement property for a former Land and Water Conservation Fund property near the intersection of Lincoln and Cedar streets, which was improperly abandoned years ago, according to Barrett.

Under Land and Water Conservation Fund requirements, properties that benefit from the federal conservation grants must be forever maintained as recreational property. In 1970, the city received one of these grants to purchase and install an above-ground pool in a playground area surrounding the former Couture Community Center, but the property was sold in 2006 without anyone aware of the grant restrictions. 

Since that property is no longer a recreational use, the city is required to find replacement property of equal or greater market value. 

In 2016, the city was asked to provide an update on all of its Land and Water Conservation Fund-assisted recreational areas, and the error was found. 

Barrett’s memo says the responsibility for monitoring Land and Water Conservation Fund properties in Maine rests with the State Bureau of Parks and Lands, but “it appears that the state did no monitoring for many years.” 

Barrett said city staff reviewed all city property to determine whether any could be converted to recreation or open space, and the Alfred Plourde Parkway land was identified. 

The city also recently dealt with another Land and Water Conservation Fund grant replacement property.

When the Franklin Pasture property, a Land and Water Conservation Fund site, was used for the new Connors Elementary School, the city chose land owned by the former Hudson Bus Co. off Bartlett Street to replace it. 

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A 23-acre parcel, left, near Alfred Plourde Parkway and Webster Street in Lewiston may be developed for recreational use, including walking trails. Penmor Lithographers is at bottom center and L.L.Bean at bottom right. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

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