CAMDEN, Maine — A century ago, the Megunticook River was the lifeblood of Camden with as many as 10 mills lining its banks and generating jobs and income for the town.
Today, the river keeps a lower profile as it wends its way from Lake Megunticook to Camden Harbor. A planned walkway on the site of the former Apollo Tannery may bring the Megunticook back into closer focus, its proponents say, and after a slow start, the idea is catching on.
Residents are set to make one final vote regarding the easement for the walkway at next Tuesday’s regular Select Board meeting.
“People love it. Everyone seems to be behind it now,” said Nancy Caudle-Johnson, a longtime advocate for the river walk. “What Camden is, is quality of place. We have mountains and the sea and the gorgeous harbor. We have a river running through our town. How lucky can you be?”
When the town seized the 3.5- acre tannery lot in 2003 after its owner failed to pay property taxes, Camden worked to remove the buildings and mitigate environmental pollutants left over from the tanning chemicals. The property now is vacant, but boasts a 900-foot corridor of river frontage. Starting in early 2008, the creation of a river walk was proposed.
Residents voted last November to make the corridor a public path that would be permanently owned by the town. An independent organization would hold an easement on the property.
The nonprofit Coastal Mountains Land Trust has that easement, and staffers worked Wednesday morning to document exactly how the river frontage now looks.
Ian Stewart, conservation lands manager at the land trust, and Executive Director Scott Dickerson wielded a camera and a GPS unit to mark exactly where they snapped photos. The men scrambled down the steep riverbank and picked their way over broken concrete slabs and metal coils left over from the property’s tannery days.
“The easement has to name all the structures present on the property, so that we know in the future what can be replaced or maintained,” Dickerson said.
“It’s an interesting project,” he said. “This stretch, if it’s creatively approached, could be a very interesting attribute for the town.”
Camden Select Board member Anita Brosius-Scott is the liaison to the Camden-Rockport pathways committee, a group that has worked on the river walk.
The town won’t be able to construct the walkway this summer, but the committee envisions a future where the path might extend from the tannery site all the way into town.
“It’s a glacial kind of movement,” she said. “It would be lovely if, in a really long-range plan, that could happen on the river, but there are many, many private properties that are there.”
Barbara Dyer, the town’s unofficial historian, said she has doubts about creating a river walk along the Megunticook.
“I’m afraid the first one who trips on that walk or falls in the river, the first thing they’re going to do is sue Camden,” she said.
But Casey Leonard, who lives close to the site of the proposed river walk, said he is looking forward to its creation.
“I think it’s a wonderful thing, because it’ll open up opportunity for walking, exercise and cycling,” he said. “Camden would use it. Camden’s a real outdoorsy kind of town, and I think it would really benefit. And it would be good for the economy.”
Residents will vote next week whether to approve extending the easement all the way to the edge of the river. The easement as it is now written stops at the top of the embankment.
“We just want to confirm that voters are authorizing the whole area,” said Town Manager Roberta Smith.
The vote will occur at a special town meeting to be held during the regular Select Board meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 21, at the Washington Street Conference Room in the town office.