A mile-long riverfront path that has slowly come to life over the past 20 years in a previously hazardous area has become a source of pride for Brewer and a regional attraction as it continues to expand and spur economic development.
The Riverwalk started as an idea from residents and city officials in 2000. The city spent $4 million to stabilize the shore of the Penobscot River after a study found erosion was slowly eating away at the shoreline. The first section of the Riverwalk was then completed in 2013, stretching from the south side of the Joshua Chamberlain Bridge to Hardy Street.
Since then, it’s become a popular attraction in the region, and its popularity grew during the COVID-19 pandemic, when some of the only available activities involved outdoor recreation.
Next month, the city hopes to celebrate the walking path with a Riverwalk Festival that will feature food trucks, children’s activities, a craft fair, live performances and fireworks.
The celebration will be held on Saturday, June 4 from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. along the Riverwalk and downtown.
“Years ago, it wasn’t a very clean or safe place to be,” Renee Doble, Brewer’s deputy economic development director, said of the city’s riverfront area. “We’re proud of how clean, safe and pretty it is, and the fact that it’s so close to the water makes it feel relaxing, too.”
Construction for the Riverwalk’s first expansion began in 2018. The addition, unveiled the next year, allowed the path to run through the Joshua Chamberlain Bridge to Veteran’s Park.
Starting next year, the popular trail will be extended by another 300 feet. The existing mile-long path now ends at Hardy Street by Mason’s Brewing Company. The new section will extend south and take people around the trajectory of the Penobscot River to South Main Street as part of a $625,000 project.
The foot traffic the walking path brought has helped spur economic growth in the area, Doble said. Businesses like Mason’s Brewing Company, High Tide Restaurant, Tiller and Rye, Tozier’s Market and Natalea’s Center Scoop arrived after the Riverwalk was built, she said.
“We see a lot of interest in the Riverwalk from people who want to start businesses,” Doble said. “We have developers who are interested in properties on the Riverwalk, and I believe many of them have talked to the owners to try to negotiate prices that are within reason.”
Though the area has attracted many residents and visitors, Doble said the path has remained relatively safe, due to safeguards such as security cameras trained on the path at all times, lighting, and frequent police surveillance.
For example, graffiti appeared on the walls of a tunnel that passes under the Joshua Chamberlain Bridge shortly after the second phase of the Riverwalk opened, Doble said. However, city officials spotted it and cleaned it up within 24 hours.
“If anyone does hang out or look like they don’t belong there, the police come down and make sure they’re not doing anything they’re not supposed to be,” Doble said. “There’s definitely a police presence there. They walk it at least once a day to make sure they have eyes there and they know what’s going on, and that makes it feel safe.”
Stacey Collins and her son, Rowan, 6, of Brewer said they like to visit the Riverwalk several times a week when the weather warms to look for colored rocks that some visitors leave behind, watch ducks in the river and decorate the path with sidewalk chalk.
“It’s peaceful and beautiful,” Collins said. “We feel like it’s the perfect place for a walk.”
Matt Bisson said he enjoys running on the Riverwalk in the morning when he travels to Bangor every three weeks for work from his home in New York.
“This is the closest place I’ve found where I can get some green space in the city,” he said. “Coming from a big city and being alone, I’ve always felt safe here. I can see there are cameras around and it always looks clean, too.”
Margarita Marnik lives about 45 minutes away from Brewer, but said she makes time to walk on the Riverwalk when she’s in the area because “it’s a beautiful place to stretch my legs.”
Brewer hoped to make the Riverwalk Festival an annual event after it held a ribbon-cutting ceremony unveiling the second phase of the mile-long paved path in 2019, but the pandemic stopped the gatherings in 2020 and last year, Doble said.
Doble said the city wants to continue holding a Riverwalk Festival each summer to draw attention to the waterfront trail as well as Brewer’s downtown area.