February 28

Visitors to Portland Head Light could get better view

The Cape Elizabeth Town Council will vote on a plan to spruce up the area around the landmark lighthouse.

By Leslie Bridgers lbridgers@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

CAPE ELIZABETH — The nearly 1 million people who visit Fort Williams Park each year and get the chance to view Portland Head Light could soon find the area around the lighthouse even more picturesque.

click image to enlarge

Tourists visit Portland Head Light in Cape Elizabeth on Tuesday. Stone seating is part of an improvement plan at the park.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Tourists visit Portland Head Light in Cape Elizabeth on Tuesday. The town is looking at a project that would enhance the surrounding landscape.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

Stone seating with wider views of Casco Bay is part of the plan for an upgraded viewing area near the landmark. Picnic tables, a food vendor and an information booth – existing features – would be moved and incorporated into the landscape design, which includes new plantings and paths.

“We create almost a plaza effect,” said Bob Ayotte, president of the Fort Williams Foundation.

The Cape Elizabeth Town Council will decide March 10 whether to approve the plan. The funding wouldn’t come from the town, which owns and operates the free public park.

Town Manager Mike McGovern said a private donor, who hasn’t been named, will split the cost of the $150,000 project with the Museum at Port Head Light, which raises money from museum admission fees and gift shop sales.

The project, scheduled for completion by the Fourth of July, is the second part of a broader initiative to eradicate invasive plants from the 90-acre park and improve the experience of exploring the former military fort.

For the first project, called Cliffside, invasive species were ripped from the ground and replaced with a formal landscape of native plantings. That was completed in the summer of 2012.

Projects planned for the near future include cleaning up the Cliff Walk between Cliffside and the lighthouse and creating a children’s garden, with a meadow maze and a stream.

The council will vote on the plan for the children’s garden March 10, but Ayotte said more fundraising is needed and the project isn’t expected to start before the spring of 2015.

Another aspect of the project planned for this spring would help with the landscaping projects planned for the future.

Land next to the upgraded visitor area would be used as a lab of sorts to test various methods of killing invasive plant species, such as covering them with plastic or newspaper shreds, said Ayotte.

“The attempt here is not to use herbicides,” he said.

As for the viewing area, Ayotte said, that’s geared mostly toward the bus loads of cruise ship passengers who get dropped off at the lighthouse for a quick look around the historic centerpiece of the park.

“We’re trying to set up an environment that will be friendly to them,” Ayotte said, so even if they’re at the park for only a short time, they’ll get “a real feel for Fort Williams.”

Jeanne Gross, director of the museum, said she thinks the new amenities will have an effect on other visitors, too.

Now, she said, people park their cars, walk up to the lighthouse, then walk down one of the paths to take pictures. Gross said there has never been a good place just to sit and look out on the water.

“That will encourage them to stay longer,” she said.

Portland Head Light, which marks the entrance to Portland Harbor, is often called the most photographed lighthouse in the world, or in North America. While such claims are impossible to prove, tourists and photographers are often seen trying to find the best angles and lighting to capture it.

The website lighthousefriends.com is a little more conservative, calling it “the most visited, painted and photographed lighthouse in New England.”

Gross said she often gets emails from photographers who are planning trips to Maine and wondering what time the sun is in the best position for them to shoot the landmark.

“Almost every photographer that comes from another state makes sure to get a picture of Portland Head Light,” she said.

Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at:

lbridgers@pressherald.com

Twitter: @lesliebridgers

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