Visitors can explore Fort Gorges – at their own risk – except when crews are working on the entryway on Thursday, Friday, Monday and Tuesday. Staff photo by Gregory Rec

A second round of safety upgrades will be made this week to Fort Gorges, a Civil War-era fortification that sits in Casco Bay between Portland’s East End and Peaks Island.

“Fort Gorges is an untapped treasure in Casco Bay, and we’re excited to be in a public-private partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Friends of Fort Gorges to help preserve this unique and historical gem for future generations,” said Jessica Grondin, City Hall’s communications director.

The safety upgrades are part of a larger effort by the city, nonprofit Friends of Fort Gorges and the Army Corps to preserve the fort named after Sir Ferdinando Gorges, who in the early 1600s was credited with discovering the land that is now Maine.

Today, thousands of people pass by the fort, marked by its six granite walls and grassy roof, when journeying to the many islands of Casco Bay. Others take in the view from Portland, South Portland and Cape Elizabeth.

The fort is open to the public, but it can only be accessed by private boats. Visitors explore the fort at their own risk, the city said. It will remain open during the repairs, except when the crews are working on the entryway. That work has been scheduled for Thursday, Friday, Monday and Tuesday, though more days may be announced.

The project, which the city said is being funded by the Army Corps and is expected to be finished by mid-August, marks the beginning of the preservation effort in earnest.

Last fall, the fort was closed for one day, while the Army Corps repaired a stairway leading to the second level of the fort.

Thousands of people who navigate Casco Bay pass by Fort Gorges, marked by its six granite walls and grassy roof. Staff photo by Gregory Rec

According to the Friends of Fort Gorges, the current project includes the installation of railings and gates throughout the fort to improve safety. “Through making these repairs, the City hopes to bring the structure up to a standard where organized groups will be able to utilize the Fort for historical tours, musical and theater performances, and other public events,” the group said on its website.

The friends group is also hoping to conduct a feasibility study to determine how much it would cost to fully restore the fort, which has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1973 and is considered one the top “Places in Peril” by Greater Portland Landmarks, a local preservation group.

The fort was commissioned after the War of 1812 but wasn’t completed until just after the Civil War ended. It was modeled after Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina, and was last active during World War II, according to the city.

Nearly 100 years after it was built, the U.S. government gave the fort to the city of Portland.

Fort Gorges sits between Portland’s East End and Peaks Island in Casco Bay. Safety upgrades, which start this week, are part of a larger effort by the city, nonprofit Friends of Fort Gorges and the Army Corps of Engineers to preserve the Civil War-era fort. Staff photo by Gregory Rec

Paul Drinan, executive director of the friends group, said they scaled back their study, originally estimated to cost $180,000. Instead, the group conducted a $30,000 study to look at two areas in particular: the casemates and access to the south parapet, which is connected to the fort by a wooden bridge that is expected to be removed.

Drinan said the friends expect to receive the study by the end of the month.

He said the group is currently booking tours of the fort through its website and Facebook page. And this fall, the group expects to begin offering memberships and launch a capital campaign to fund additional improvements to the fort.

“There are all kinds of opportunities to be had out there,” Drinan said.

Randy Billings can be reached at 791-6346 or at:

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