PORTLAND, Maine — Strolling couples stop, hands on hips, staring at the dizzy array of blazing wildflowers. Dogs pause, sniffing the blossom-scented air. Bees hover, then settle on tempting blooms. Overhead, red-winged blackbirds flit and sing while a small herd of turtles sun themselves on a pair of exposed rocks in the pond.
It’s late spring and Capisic Pond Park is showing off.
“In Maine, so much blooms all at once in the spring,” said Nathaniel Smith, the Portland Public Works project engineer who oversaw recent improvements around the pond.
The 18-acre parcel is only three miles from downtown — and just a few yards from bustling Brighton Avenue — but it feels like a world away from the city.
Here, nature rules, by human design.
From left (clockwise): Yellow buttercups, green grass and purple clover surround an inviting bench at Portland’s Capisic Pond Park on Wednesday, June 2, 2021; A yellow buttercup blooms beside the footpath at Portland’s Capisic Pond Park on Wednesday, June 2, 2021; A blooming Golden Alexanders plant decorates the footpath at Capisic Pond Park in Portland on Wednesday, June 2, 2021. Credit: Troy R. Bennett | BDN
The park is centered around Capisic Pond. The four-acre body of water was created in the 1660s when early settlers dammed the brook to power a mill. The brook originates, partially, with two smaller ponds behind Evergreen Cemetery. From there, it flows through the Nason’s Corner neighborhood before eventually emptying into the Fore River.
The mill vanished sometime after 1900 but Portland kept the dam and used the pond and brook for stormwater runoff. For decades, the city regularly dredged the pond, but that practice stopped in the 1950s. As a result, it had collected tons of sediment by the early 2000s.
“It was choked with cattails,” Smith said.
In 2016, Portland undertook a multimillion-dollar dredging and improvement project at Capisic Pond. According to a final report, issued in 2019, some of the dredged material was used to reshape and restore the waterway’s banks. Then, an extensive array of woody and herbaceous plants was added.
“We had a landscape architect come up with a plan,” Smith said. “We did so much planting at that park — tons of plants.”
The architect specifically called for plants that grow wild in Maine.
Now, several years after the completion of the project, those flowering shrubs and patches of wildflowers are fully established, mature and stunning.
Small, open meadows are dotted with clumps of pink and violet lupin. Along the gravel path running between Capisic and Lucas Streets, golden Alexander, King Solomon’s Seal, white campion and yellow buttercups run wild. Purple ragged robin carpets the verges.
Besides human visitors, buzzing bees are also frequent guests.
“There’s a beekeeper just across the road, by the dam,” Smith said.
From left (clockwise): A woman bikes past a patch of blooming ragged robin at Portland’s Capisic Pond Park on Wednesday, June 2, 2021; White campion blooms at Capisic Pond Park in Portland on Wednesday June 2, 2021; A dense patch of King Solomon’s seal grows on a short, shady slope in Portland’s Capisic Pond Park on Wednesday June 2, 2021. Credit: Troy R. Bennett | BDN
The park has long been a favorite stopover for migrating songbirds — and the binocular-toting humans who adore them. Cardinals, warblers and orioles are often spotted. Birders flocked to Capisic in January to see a rare European redwing.
Other animals can also be found. Fox, muskrat and woodchuck tracks have all been reported.
“Somebody just posted online that the otters are back,” Smith said. “And there’s a huge turtle in the pond. People are always snapping pictures of it.”
The current late spring crop of wildflowers is at its zenith but Smith warns it won’t last for long. Strollers should enjoy it while they can.
“There’s like a two-week window when it all happens,” he said.