A sewer separation project for the area around Portland’s Capisic Pond has resulted in a park that is better for the neighbors, wildlife, Casco Bay, hikers, dog walkers and anyone else who visits.

The overall project cost about $4.8 million, and $58,400 went to planting around 600 trees and shrubs, seeding wildflowers and grasses, and installing trails and benches.

The project faced a number of problems. First, the city wanted to make sure the neighbors had some say in how it would look, said Portland city arborist Jeff Tarling. And what they wanted was that it not look like a park: no playground or structures.

Because Capisic Pond is such an important habitat for birds, crews could not work during periods of migration or breeding.

“We couldn’t really start working until September, and we had to be done by mid-October,” said landscape architect Regina Leonard.

Improving the wildlife habitat was an important goal of the project.

Tarling said that for years, Maine Audubon Society has used Capisic Park during its Warbler Week, bringing birders from many states. One goal was to improve that aspect.

All of the plants used in the project are native to the region, replacing the invasive species that had dominated the park, and many were chosen to provide food and shelter for wildlife. In addition to birds, the area has deer and foxes; even a few coyotes have been spotted.

Some of the food bushes include serviceberry, winterberry, chokeberry, elderberry, blueberries, native viburnums and dogwoods.

Shai Levite, proprietor of Sabra Property Care, which handled the landscape work, said one of the park’s abutters is Erin Forbes, a local beekeeper. Forbes took him to a pond to show him how the bees dip down into the water to drink.

“I call that one the bee pond,” Levite said.

Leonard said another aspect of the design was to add a few more evergreens to the park to provide more shelter for animals in winter.

Tarling said Capisic Park is unusual in Portland because it is in an open area of meadows. The city has quite a few woodland areas, such as Baxter Woods, but the areas that used to be farmland have been converted to housing.

Although the new Capisic Park is a designed landscape, Leonard said she made an effort to have it look as natural as possible. Trees and shrubs were not planted in lines or squares, but in what looks like a haphazard fashion. Where there are groupings of plants, she called for three different sizes so it would look more natural.

Trees planted include white and red oaks, sugar and red maples, willows, basswoods, disease-resistant elms, pines, spruces and some larches, although Leonard says she knows she is going to get calls next fall when the larches lose their foliage from people who think the spruces are dying. During summer, larches look like typical evergeens, but they lose their leaves in the fall.

The trails through the park for the most part use a compost/mulch instead of stone because it is quieter and looks more natural, but it does hold water — which could be a problem for some hikers.

The meadow areas have been seeded with a mix of 16 seeds, made up of different kinds of grasses and wildflowers.

“Depending on the amount of light and water, some of them will thrive in different areas,” Leonard said.

Mowing will be done on different schedules. Some very small areas will be mowed regularly, some will be mowed twice a year, and parts will be mowed every two years, just enough to keep brush and trees from taking over the area.

Levite said the soil in the park was largely clay, so he added a lot of Nutrimulch from New England Organics — a Maine company — to improve the soil.

Work on the park is not yet complete. During a recent walkthrough, Levite, Leonard, Tarling and Bradley Roland, a project engineer with the city, noticed things that had to be done, including removal of a honeysuckle and some trees.

And there are still a few more plants to be added. But they were all glad to see the grass beginning to sprout in mid-November.

Tarling hopes some of the park’s neighbors will work through the National Wildlife Federation to have their yards certified as Backyard Wildlife Habitat sites. With the park’s neighbors also growing plants to provide food and shelter for the animals, the benefits of the park will be even greater.

Tom Atwell can be contacted at 791-6362 or at:

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