For decades, the Saco River powered Biddeford’s textile mills, but the river itself was largely out of the sight and reach of many residents.

Riverwalk aims to change that.

“There will be access and views of the river that nobody has ever seen,” said Greg Tansley, Biddeford’s planning director.

Obscured from the public eye by mills located on private property, the riverfront has never been pedestrian-friendly.

Riverwalk’s supporters Thursday unveiled their plan for the first phase of the project — a short stretch from Mechanic’s Park to an overlook just upriver from the Main Street bridge. Although it isn’t long, it’s important as a daily reminder that Riverwalk exists, Tansley said.

“A lot of times, these kinds of projects get talked about and talked about a lot and we wanted to start off with something that shows people it’s for real,” Tansley said.

The design presented Thursday night shows a boardwalk running under the bridge with two overlooks that could provide visitors with information about the river and mills. The first three phases of Riverwalk will follow the city’s mill district, which is being redeveloped into offices and apartments.

Alix Hopkins, director of the Riverwalk Coalition, said the redevelopment presents an opportunity to gain access to the river, and it’s important to take advantage of it.

“People are living there for the first time and people have not had access to the river (before) and it’s spectacular,” she said. “It’s part of the renewal that’s going on in Biddeford.”

Hopkins said Riverwalk will link with other state and national trails to bring people through downtown.

And, if it’s like riverfront walks in other cities, it should be a focal point of redevelopment. Stores and restaurants naturally gravitate to an area that attracts people, Hopkins said.

The city landed a $500,000 state grant for the project and the National Park Service has provided some money for technical support.

Tansley said the first phase will probably use up most or all of the state grant, and the city will be looking for other funding sources to help push Riverwalk further upriver.

Hopkins said ground-breaking on the first phase is expected to take place this summer, with completion of the first phase by the end of the year.

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

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