PROSPECT, Maine — The nonprofit group that manages Fort Knox is worried that locals have not been consulted about a plan to install about 1,800 feet of fencing at the fort, an effort by the state to prevent visitors from falling and getting injured.
The state’s Bureau of Parks and Lands has approved construction of a 42-inch metal fence around the perimeter along the various high points of the fort, many of which rise 25 feet above the ground.
The state also plans to plant 300 linear feet of shrubs along the two adjacent batteries, as another means to mitigate the risk of falls.
Skip Varney, director of engineering and real property for the bureau, said the measures are necessary to protect visitors who come to the park every year.
“A fort is designed to be hazardous,” he said. “It’s not designed for easy access to these locations, where you’re subject to a 25-foot drop onto granite.”
The project is expected to cost about $500,000 and will be funded by a federal grant program for formerly used defense sites, Varney said. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would construct the fence and plant the shrubs.
Efforts to mitigate the hazard of falling at the fort date back to the 1990s, when the bureau did an analysis of all the former military sites in the state that are now open to the public, Varney said. Between 1982 and 2010, there have been 34 “serious” incidents of falls at Fort Knox, according to state records, with injuries ranging from cuts and abrasions to broken bones and, in one instance, “loosened teeth.”
All along, the planning process has involved the state, which owns the site, and the federal government. But The Friends of Fort Knox, who took over management of the state historic site in April 2012 in the first privatization of its kind, have requested a public forum on the plan.
Leon Seymour, director of the Friends, said the organization had no formal objection to the plan, but notes that the state Historic Preservation Commission found that the fencing would have an “adverse impact” on the fort’s historic integrity.
Seymour said the state and the Army Corps of Engineers should listen to local residents, who he says have told the Friends group that the fence would unnecessarily diminish the fort’s appeal.
“I spoke with one person who said it’s going to look like a prison,” he said. “The local community should be afforded an opportunity to express an opinion.”
Seymour said the Friends have not received a response on whether a forum will be held.
Kirk Mohney, assistant director of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission, said the determination that the fence would have an “adverse impact” was the result of a required study conducted any time work is planned at a site on the National Register of Historic Places. He said that to address the impact, the Army Corps of Engineers would locate the fence in the least obtrusive way and photograph the fort before any construction, so that a record of its existing condition would be available for posterity.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.