The original design for the Cote Street nature park in Lewiston, above, featured multiple trailheads earlier this year. It’s been scaled back to one and a parking area off Ashmount Street due to neighborhood concerns. City of Lewiston graphic

LEWISTON — A proposed 14-acre nature park south of Webster Street will likely go to the Planning Board in November, but some residents this week questioned the city’s ability to maintain the park and address potential safety concerns at the mostly-wooded site.

The project, bordered by Cote and Ashmount streets and Hilltop Avenue, was unveiled early this year, featuring elements such as a natural play area, trails and boardwalk through the forest and wetland areas.

Following a City Council workshop presentation Tuesday, some abutters said they’re worried the park will attract the city’s unhoused population or fall into disrepair due to a Public Works staff that is stretched thin.

Larry Gilbert, the former police chief and mayor, who lives on Cote Street, told the council “we can’t even keep up with what we already have.”

He said over the past few years, the city has dropped some 20 sites for perpetual care and maintenance due to a “lack of funding and personnel,” instead relying on volunteers.

Public Works maintains 21 city parks.


“Let’s maintain what we already have and not take on more than we can chew just because there is new money upfront,” Gilbert said.

Following initial public feedback on the plan, which included an online survey, the design only features one trailhead instead of three and a parking area from Ashmount Street. The city held three public meetings in May, where staff heard a variety of concerns.

Public Works Director Mary Ann Brenchick said neighbors wanted to “downplay” the park entrances and signs to have it feel more like a neighborhood connection.

One neighbor said Tuesday that Cote Street and Hilltop Avenue are dead-end streets where people purchased homes to have low traffic and no safety concerns. Residents said they wanted to see off-street parking, and the designers have since proposed a lighted parking area for nine vehicles.

Another neighbor said her impression was there was “strong opposition” to the park during the May meetings, and said there hasn’t been a “dialogue” with city staff since. All abutters to the proposed park spoke during the public comment session Tuesday.

“There’s been a total lack of communication,” she said, adding that she originally found out about the project when someone was surveying near her property.


The nature park is one of several such areas city staff have proposed or completed since 2020. Due to federal grant funds, the city was required to replace the recreational land that became Connors Elementary School on Bartlett Street. Land and water conservation funds require that a park built with the grant is maintained in perpetuity, and if not, that it be replaced by a park elsewhere with an equal land and recreational value.

Brenchick said during the City Council meeting Tuesday that the “recreational value” is subjective, but that the city works with state officials on the proposals. The city has five planned, with three already completed: Drouin Field on Jefferson Street; Jude’s Place, Maine’s first universally-accessible playground at Marcotte Park in a triangular plot east of the Androscoggin Bank Colisee where Jefferson, Caron and Birch streets meet; and the new Bartlett Street soccer field near Connors Elementary School.

The Cote Street nature park would be the fourth, and add a different type of neighborhood amenity to Lewiston, officials said. One of the council’s overall goals is to bolster the city’s image, which Brenchick said can be done with a variety of recreational areas. The city held a ribbon cutting this week for its new outdoor fitness court at Simard-Payne Memorial Park on Beech Street near the Androscoggin River.

According to the city’s survey results, 43% of respondents had positive comments about the plan, 11% had negative comments and the remainder were neutral.

Councilor Rick Lachapelle questioned how much the city spends to maintain its parks, and whether the city should continue pursuing another one.

“It’s a difficult balancing act,” he said.

Staff said that if the city did not build recreational areas to replace the acreage required, Lewiston would no longer get funding for parks or trails.

During the council meeting, Mayor Carl Sheline said he visited all 21 city parks ahead of the Public Works presentation.

“I appreciated hearing an update from Director Brenchick about the park and listening to residents during public comment,” he said Friday. “Parks are key to a thriving community and I look forward to continuing the public process for this neighborhood park.”

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