Fort Kent’s Riverside Park a multidecade work in progress

Posted Jan. 07, 2012, at 1:58 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 08, 2012, at 5:42 p.m.

FORT KENT, Maine — Winter has put construction on hold, but municipal officials are moving forward with major changes to Riverside Park just south of East Main Street.

Once a neighborhood with scores of residential homes and apartments, since the mid-1980s the site has become a civic and recreational gathering point along the St. John River.

Most recently the Fort Kent Lions Club raised more than $250,000 to construct a large open-air pavilion on the eastern end of the park to accommodate festivals, private parties and community gatherings.

Now the town is turning its attention to the western side of the park by moving an existing park for recreational vehicles to make way for a new youth soccer field.

“The park was really started in the 1980s and since then it’s been added to a piece at a time over the years,” Don Guimond, Fort Kent town manager, said last week. “We are trying to complete it to give it a better feeling.”

Before the cold weather ceased operations, contractor Jim Bouchard was excavating the new soccer field, planned to be regulation-size for middle school-age soccer programs.

Guimond said the new field will supplement the existing University of Maine at Fort Kent and public school fields, which are often unavailable for youth programming in the fall soccer season.

Room also will be created for about 40 parking spaces, bleachers and lighting for night games.

That field will be located on what was the RV park, which is being moved to the site of the former elder housing complex at the end of Church Street.

That complex was condemned and demolished after record flooding in the spring of 2008.

In all, about $135,000 is being invested in the projects funded jointly in part through the Maine Department of Conservation’s Land and Water Fund, a state-administered River Front Grant and local money from the town’s recreation department reserve account.

An added $8,000 grant from Project Canopy will be used for tree and shrub landscaping throughout the park.

Guimond said the plans for the new RV park, licensed for eight camping spots, are near completion and also will be funded through the River Front Grant program.

Once the new projects are complete, Guimond said, the town is looking for ways to improve overall access to the park through targeted use of Community Development Block Grant funds.

“Our local citizens all know the park is there and use it quite heavily,” Guimond said. “But for visitors coming in to town, they drive by [the entrance] and may not even realize it’s there.”

The town is exploring the option of purchasing one or more properties within the area stretching from former Martin Street to the former Ray Soucy building.

“We are submitting the [CDBG] application to create a new entrance to better tie in to Main Street,” Guimond said. “This would be for both foot and car traffic.”

The town is applying for the funding this month under specific guidelines allowing it to target any of several single properties for purchase and demolition to make way for the proposed entry road.

Construction of the new soccer field is expected to be completed this coming spring, however, it will open for use the next year once the turf and related landscaping has taken solid root, Guimond said.

The relocated RV park should be ready for use by late spring, the town manager said.

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