AUGUSTA — Public access to the grounds of the historic Kennebec Arsenal property that overlooks the Kennebec River is blocked because of concerns about illegal activity in and around the parking lot.

However, the Greenway Trail, a hiking and bicycling trail that runs between the east side of the river and the substantial granite buildings on the property, remains open to the public and is accessible from other points, including the city’s waterfront park. It will remain so under the terms of an easement the city has that ensures public access to the scenic trail that crosses the property.

“The trail is open. There is no intention by us to do anything but continue that,” said Tom Niemann, whose North Carolina-based company bought the property from the state in 2007 with so-far-unfulfilled promises to redevelop it.

The entrances to the arsenal’s parking lot have been blocked off by rows of yellow-painted concrete blocks and “no parking” and “keep out” signs, prompted by what Niemann described as criminal activity in and near the parking lot. He declined to specify what the activity was, other than that it was “distasteful.”

Jared Mills, Augusta’s deputy police chief, said police have responded to occasional reports of indecent conduct on the property, such as people being propositioned for sexual acts, as well as drug dealing. He said police have increased their patrols there over the past year. He anticipates that restricting access to the parking lot could help decrease illegal activity.

Niemann said blocking public access to the site is likely to be temporary until the company devises a plan to allow at least some limited access.

“We don’t want the general public to suffer because of the actions of a few in the parking lot,” he said, “but we’ve got to make sure it’s a safe, secure environment for the public to enjoy. It was a tough choice for us to limit it.”

The public will be allowed to use the property on the Fourth of July as a viewing spot for fireworks that the city shoots off just upriver. Niemann said the company knows people would be disappointed if they couldn’t go there on the holiday, so it decided to allow access.

He said all the company asks is that people be careful because they use the property at their own risk, and that they pick up any trash when they leave.

Local residents and workers who use the property to get to the tranquil and scenic Greenway Trail are disappointed in the blocked access. They said they’ll probably still use the trail but reach it from other spots.

Daniel McNulty, of Farmingdale, works at the nearby Ballard Center and takes walks from work across the arsenal property to the trail. Also, he and his wife took their dogs for walks on the trail, parking in the now-blocked arsenal lot.

On Thursday he noticed the cement blocks and no-trespassing signs saying it was private property.

“It was very, very disappointing to see that sign,” McNulty said. “It is kind of shocking, because a lot of people go down there fishing, too. It’s an amazing spot, so tranquil. I understand (why they chose to close access to it), but it is sad a few bad apples would ruin this.”

Ryan Gordon, who said he has been riding his bicycle across the arsenal property to get to the Greenway Trail every weekday as he commutes to and from work nearby on Hospital Street, said he understands why the owner would block access to the parking lots if activity there is hurting his interest in the property, but that foot and bicycle traffic should not be prevented on the property.

“I have not seen any criminal activity or evidence, but I’m only there during normal commuting hours,” Gordon said. “If there truly is criminal activity occurring, then I suppose that blocking vehicles is a reasonable response, but I still think it would be nice if they let people roam around on foot or bike during daylight hours.”

City Manager William Bridgeo said Niemann had contacted him in recent weeks and indicated he was thinking about blocking off access to the arsenal’s parking lot. Bridgeo said an easement ensures that by law, the public still will be able to use the Greenway Trail across the arsenal property.

The property is a designated National Historic Landmark. In 2013, it was listed by Maine Preservation as among the state’s most endangered historic properties. It has been described by some preservationists as one of the best and earliest surviving examples of 19th-century munitions depots in the country. It was built from 1828 to 1838.

Keith Edwards can be contacted at 621-5647 or at:

[email protected]