PORTLAND – “You have to come out in the middle of the street to fully appreciate it,” John Spritz said as the Back Cove Block Party kicked off Sunday.

With the exception of an ice cream truck, motor vehicle traffic along Baxter Boulevard between Vannah Avenue and Payson Park was blocked from noon to 3 p.m. for the block party, allowing residents to enjoy a traffic-free stretch along the cove.

With bright blue skies and a steady breeze, it was ideal weather to be outside. Many folks brought their bicycles, while some even broke out inline skates. Rhonda LaPointe-Lachance said it had been awhile since the last time she strapped on a pair.

“We had to dig them out just for this,” she said, but that was not obvious from the way she sped along the centerline of the boulevard.

This is the third time the Back Cove Neighborhood Association has hosted a block party — the last being held in 2006, said Spritz, the group’s president.

The group used to have neighborhood parties in Payson Park, but it wanted to open the event to city residents. Spritz said blocking off the boulevard helped create an open park atmosphere so people could do as they pleased without the worry or danger of cars speeding by.

It took a little while for folks to venture onto the road. Most continued to enjoy the trail and the shade the trees offered, but by midafternoon, children and parents on bicycles started to fill the road. Some boys were doing ollies on their skateboards, zigzagging across the road.

Near Vannah Avenue, twins Max and Zoe Cheever, 7, sat in the shade of a tree for a picnic. They indulged in homemade sandwiches with their parents, Will Cheever and Meg Christie.

“I think it’s a nice idea,” Christie said. “The kids are excited to ride their bicycles in the middle of the street.”

As part of the event, the association also had a table of free refreshments for the neighbors. Christie donated blackberry tarts, which she made from blackberries growing in her backyard in the neighborhood.

Down the boulevard, Tracy Tingley of Hardcore Hoops in Portland had a stack of hula hoops at the ready. She encouraged skeptical passers-by to give it a try, instructing them to give the hoop a good spin around the waist and then keep their bodies “in tune” with the hoop.

After a few minutes, Amanda Martin had the hula hoop twirling around her body with ease. As she lost momentum and it fell to the ground, she jumped up with a smile on her face.

“I can’t believe I did it,” she said, laughing.

Her 7-month-old son Memphis giggled as he watched her try again.

Martin traveled with Memphis and her 5-year-old son Zander to the block party from Westbrook. While she saw it as an excursion, she saw the block party as an opportunity to mingle and network with people as well.

“People out here enjoying the sunshine,” Martin said.

Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

[email protected]