AUGUSTA — Crescent Beach State Park will stay intact now that the state has signed a five-year lease extension for more than half of the land that makes up the popular retreat in Cape Elizabeth.
A 100-acre parcel owned by the Sprague Corp. will remain part of the 187-acre park for $100,000 a year, said the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry’s Division of Parks and Public Lands.
The leased land includes about 1,000 feet of beach, the park’s entrance road and gate, hiking trails and a third of the parking lot.
The Division of Parks and Public Lands announced the deal Friday morning, ending months of speculation.
The state and the family-run company had been negotiating a new lease since the previous, 50-year deal expired in 2010.
Initially, the focus was on a state purchase of the property. It shifted to a lease extension after Gov. Paul LePage took office in 2011 and said he didn’t want the state taking on more debt.
A short-term lease extension was due to expire next month and the Sprague Corp. had indicated that it might not approve another extension, raising the possibility that it would operate the property as a private park.
Crescent Beach is one of Maine’s most popular state parks, drawing about 110,000 people a year. It’s close to Portland and its suburbs, and is a favorite with families because it has gentle surf, picnicking and barbecuing areas, and a concession stand with attached changing rooms and showers.
State officials, worried that a deal might not be reached, sent out workers late last summer to scout out potential new routes for the access road to the parking lot and beach.
That possibility worried many residents in Cape Elizabeth, including town officials, who were afraid that the new access road – expected to run across land that’s now strawberry fields near the Inn by the Sea – could cause traffic problems.
There’s now a left-turn lane for southbound drivers to enter the park from Route 77, and a fairly long and wide stretch of road leading to the entrance gate, which minimizes traffic backups on the state road.
Inn by the Sea officials had said they were worried that the new access road would endanger habitat for piping plovers and the New England cottontail rabbit.
Richard Carroll, the inn’s sales and marketing director, said Friday afternoon that he was “thrilled” to hear that the lease had been signed.
“We’re glad they came to an agreement,” he said.
A provision in the supplemental state budget that lawmakers approved last month diverted money from the General Fund to the lease payments. That will allow the state to start paying when the extension expires next month, instead of waiting until July 1, when the state’s new budget year starts.
“We are very pleased with the way this has turned out,” Will Harris, director of the Division of Parks and Public Lands, said in a news release Friday. “This will give us significant time to seek an even more permanent resolution for Crescent Beach. I think both sides have worked well to reach this point.”
Seth Sprague, president of the Sprague Corp., said, “Our family is pleased that this parcel will continue to be part of the park. Credit to all involved for persevering to find a positive outcome.”