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Major Houlton Riverfront Park projects winding down

HOULTON, Maine — Twenty years ago, when the area that is now Riverfront Park was still a tangled mass of trees and litter beside the Meduxnekeag River, it would have been hard for anyone to imagine that the location would soon be a major gathering spot for the community.

But with the construction of restrooms at the park scheduled to be completed next month, Bob Anderson, chairman of the Riverfront Committee, said that the biggest projects will be done.

“We have completed the bulk of the major projects but we do have some small things leftover that we would like to get done,” Anderson said Friday. “We hope to put some additional benches down there and to put some additional LED lights up because some of those lights that line the walking trail have gone out. We also would like to put additional paving in the parking lot so that it will be paved from the picnic canopy on down to the trail head.”

Anderson has been instrumental in leading the charge to raise funding for the bridge and park project. The Riverfront Committee formed to create the downtown park, which centers on Gateway Crossing, the pedestrian footbridge that stretches from the North Street Bridge across the Meduxnekeag River. The council approved the restroom construction project in May 2016 after much discussion and some controversy over the necessity of building such facilities and who would be responsible for maintaining them. The building will have restrooms for men and women along with plumbing and electricity and will only be open from May through November.

The Riverfront Committee has partnered with the town to secure grants to finance some projects in the park, but private fundraising has been the driving force behind its creation. The committee spent five years raising the $1 million needed to build the 187-foot bridge.

Emily Mitchell of Houlton was walking on the trail in the park Friday and said that she and her family visit the location “at least three times a week or more.

“Personally, I love to start walks with friends right here near the bridge and walk along the trail next to the river,” she said. “It is a beautiful walk, especially in the summer and fall.”

Taylor Bates of Caribou was visiting a friend in the area when she stopped at Riverfront Park Friday. She said she had attended the town’s Midnight Madness celebration last month, which featured fireworks over the park and bridge.

“It really is a great little park,” she said. “I took a number of great pictures of the fireworks over the bridge.”

Anderson said Friday that aside from finishing up smaller projects in the park, the committee is also focused on maintaining artwork in the area. In the past, the park has been the site of sculptures of a moose and a bear, both of which were on loan to the town. Storyboards depicting the history of the town also are located at various places along the walking trail. In 2016, the town purchased a “wind sculpture” from Lyman Whitaker Sculptures in Kennebunkport.

“We believe that there is always going to be a need for ongoing funding for the park, not only for maintenance but to continue to place artwork down there,” Anderson said Friday. “So that will continue to be our mission.”

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