PROSPECT, Maine — The Friends of Fort Knox board of directors unanimously voted Tuesday night to reject a $500,000 proposed fence project at the state historic site, but the move may have been largely symbolic.
“In and of itself, it will not stop the project,” Leon Seymour, director of the nonprofit group, said Wednesday. “Our hope is that they’ll listen to the community’s concern.”
The state’s Bureau of Parks and Lands earlier this year 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. About 1,800 feet of fencing would be installed.
The agency also intends to plant 300 feet of shrubs along the fort’s batteries. Both of the moves are designed as safety measures to protect visitors who come to the park every year.
“A fort is designed to be hazardous,” Skip Varney, director of engineering and real property for the bureau, said last month. “It’s not designed for easy access to these locations, where you’re subject to a 25-foot drop onto granite.”
According to state records, there were 34 serious incidents of falls at Fort Knox between 1982 and 2010, with injuries ranging from cuts and abrasions to broken bones and loosened teeth.
Seymour said that some of the falls resulted from visitors slipping on wet stairs or wet grass, and that the installation of a fence might have mitigated just a handful of those. No one wants to see anyone hurt at the fort, he said, but over the decades, many thousands — or even millions — of visitors have come by to see and enjoy the fort as a historic monument.
“You’ve got to weigh safety versus what you have as a historic asset,” he said.
The Friends of Fort Knox took over management of the historic site in April 2012 in a controversial privatization measure. Seymour said that visitors to the fort this summer have expressly said that they don’t like the idea of a fence.
Seymour also noted that about 20 people came to a public forum on the matter that was held last week. At that forum, officials from the Bureau of Parks and Lands and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers talked more about the project.
Efforts Wednesday afternoon to reach an official from the state agency were unsuccessful.
The project would be funded by a federal grant program for formerly used defense sites. According to a study done by the state Historic Preservation Commission, the fencing would have an adverse impact on the fort’s historic integrity. A commission official said in July that the Army Corps of Engineers would need to locate the fence in the least obtrusive way possible.