HAMPDEN, Maine — Those who have ventured down to Turtle Head Park, located on the Penobscot River next to Hamlin’s Marina, might have noticed some big changes.
The 8-1/2-acre site has a new parking lot and bisecting walking paths, one of them is paved and the other is bark-covered.
Less obvious is that the park is the subject of a conservation easement, meaning that it will be protected from encroaching development in perpetuity, Town Manager Susan Lessard said last week.
“It’s just a lovely location, and it’s a little piece of paradise right here in Hampden,” she said. “When you’re there, you would never know you’re less than half a mile away from [U.S.] Route 1A.
“Given the pressure on waterfront property, this allows people not just from Hampden but the region to have access to the riverfront that would not be possible in some cases. And it’s a large parcel,” she said.
Lessard described the park as “passive recreational. It’s not going to be a theme park. It’s not going to have a lot of man-made [features].”
“It’s not done yet — there’s more to come,” Dean Bennett, the town’s community and economic development director, said Monday.
The town’s long-term plans also call for a kayak-canoe launch, lighting, picnic tables and signs pointing out various natural and historic features among other things, Bennett said, adding that there is no timeline for the addition amenities.
“It’s a matter of money at this point,” he said.
Lessard and Bennett recommend that those who visit the park stay on the paths.
That’s because the park has a poison ivy problem. Bennett said the town has sprayed the park in an effort to eradicate the nuisance, but it may become an annual maintenance project.
Lessard said the park project could not have happened without the participation of the Landmark Heritage Trust, a nonprofit land trust serving the towns of Carmel, Dixmont, Etna, Hermon, Hampden, Monroe, Newburgh and Winterport.
She said that an independent third party was needed to hold the conservation easement in order for the park to move forward.
“We did see the value in this,” Tony DeFeo, the trust’s president, said last week. “It’s a small easement, but it’s right on the river, and any time you can protect a property like that is a worthwhile venture.”
According to the trust’s website, the protected Hampden property includes about 4,100 feet of undeveloped shoreline along the Penobscot River, Turtle Cove and Sucker Brook. Among its features are a pebble beach looking south along the Penobscot and a number of majestic mature trees.
“As this is a historic site from the logging days of the 1800s, you will find remains of lumber mills, old foundation remains and cribbing along the shoreline,” the trust notes.
Bennett said earlier that the park project is part of a larger marina overhaul made possible by a land swap and a complex partnership that began in 2008 and involved many players, including Hamlin’s Marina, town officials, state and federal environmental agencies and Chevron, according to previous Bangor Daily News stories.
Hamlin’s was looking for a way to expand its operations on the Penobscot River in Hampden, and the town was looking for ways to increase recreational opportunities at Turtle Head Marina.
Meanwhile, Chevron needed a remediation credit opportunity to build public good will and avoid stiffer fines from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, which had discovered that tanks sold by Chevron to Gulf Oil Corp. in the mid-1980s had leaked into the Penobscot River over a 20-year period.
Hamlin’s General Manager Dan Higgins’ 2008 proposal to Bennett called for the company’s purchase of the town-owned undeveloped peninsula it was leasing next to its marina operation, but after further discussion, that idea turned into Hamlin’s swapping its peninsula property for the 7 acres owned by the town that his Hamlin’s Marina boat showroom and garage were sitting on.
The swap provided Hamlin’s with expanded retail and parking space and allowed the town to expand Turtle Head to include additional dock space, a park, trails and other amenities.