PORTLAND – A short walk from busy Capisic Street, the roar of traffic fades. Houses disappear behind dense foliage. Mountain bikers and dog walkers follow a gravel trail that, from time to time, is shared by deer and coyote.

This is Capisic Park, an 18-acre nature preserve that hugs Capisic Brook as it snakes through neighborhoods on its way to Capisic Pond, the city’s largest freshwater pond.

After much study and discussion, the park is about to suffer a big scar, with the trail ripped up next month to upgrade a sewer line.

Don’t worry, Lois Winter told a group of curious residents Friday.

“We’ll have a better Capisic Park if we come back here two or three years from now,” she said, “or 20 to 30 years from now.”

A conservation biologist who lives in the area and is on the advisory board of Portland Trails, Winter was leading a tour of the park to explain what was being done, the reasons for it and how citizen involvement led to a better project.

It’s one step in a wider effort to improve the water quality in Casco Bay and a surprisingly vast watershed that covers 1,500 acres in Portland.

As part of a citywide undertaking, workers are preparing to replace and separate old sewers that combine storm water and untreated sewage during heavy rains, flushing them into the bay.

The initial plan was to create a wide swath on which trucks could travel for maintenance.

But a strong reaction from area residents and park users, and the involvement of groups including Portland Trails, Friends of Capisic Pond Park and the Maine Audubon Society, led city officials to reconsider the sewer corridor.

The work that finally was approved will restore the route to a narrow trail, complete with 600 new trees and shrubs.

Winter carried a map showing the landscape plan and talked about how it will be carried out. As she spoke, a great blue heron flew overhead.

The project is just part of a larger vision of a cleaner Capisic Brook and Capisic Pond.

A study now in the planning stages would identify the best ways to reduce the pollution and nutrients running into the stream from roads and the roofs and lawns of hundreds of homes and businesses in the watershed.

It will be a complex task. Tributaries begin as far away as Riverside Street and Warren Avenue.

That information would please Cathie Whittenburg, who came along on the tour.

Along with many residents, she has been watching the cattails choke Capisic Pond, turning what has historically been a winter skating area into a marsh.

“I’d like to see the cattails reduced,” she said. “Every time I go by, it’s less and less of a pond.”

Winter is well aware of the trend.

It’s premature to say, however, exactly why the pond seems to be filling in so fast.

That will have to wait for the study, she said.

But it does seem obvious to her that the amount of fertilizers and pesticides people use on their lawns upstream are part of the problem.

“We’ll be trying to encourage businesses and residents to do the right thing by Capisic Brook,” she said.

Staff Writer Tux Turkel can be contacted at 791-6462 or at:

[email protected]