CAPE ELIZABETH — The town has maintained a strict ban on alcohol in Fort Williams Park for years, but that will change in September for about 1,200 state troopers from around the country.

The National Troopers Coalition sought permission to serve beer at its annual picnic and the town agreed, recognizing that if alcohol were not allowed, the organization – and the $3,600 event fee it will pay – would probably go elsewhere.

The town is working on a revision to its master plan for the 90-acre park, a former military base that is the site of Portland Head Light. Part of the plan is expected to focus on ways to generate more revenue from the park. Voters and the Town Council have rejected charging parking fees for visitors.

Other steps have been taken, including allowing food vendors to operate in the park, which generates $10,000 a year in fees; charging for tour buses and trolleys, as of next year, to bring in a projected $30,000; and charging a higher, $25,000 fee for the Beach to Beacon 10K road race to use the park.

Having more group events, such as corporate outings or weddings, would bring in even more money, said Bill Nickerson, chairman of the town’s Fort Williams Advisory Commission.

“If we want to do more of those kinds of events, there would likely be the need to allow alcohol,” Nickerson said. The troopers’ picnic is being viewed as “a pilot event,” he said.

Mike Edes, past chairman of the National Troopers Coalition and current president of the Maine State Troopers Association, said the picnic – which is expected to draw about 1,200 state police officers from around the country – was held at Beech Ridge Speedway in Scarborough the two times it was in Maine.

Edes said he wanted “something that screamed ‘Maine’” for next year’s gathering, and Fort Williams seemed to do just that.

“There’s the lighthouse, it’s right on the water and it’s got enough space,” he said, but “serving beer was an issue.”

Edes said he knew of the no-alcohol policy at the park, but “I just took a shot in the dark” and found town officials willing to discuss easing the policy. The Town Council approved the permit for the coalition’s picnic, including allowing beer to be sold, last month.

The permit comes with some strict conditions, Nickerson said. Beer drinking will be restricted to a contained area, and an off-duty Cape Elizabeth police officer must be hired to make sure the beer stays in that area.

Nickerson said the fact that the event is scheduled for a Thursday in September, when the park is likely to be less crowded than on a summer weekend, made the Fort Williams commission more comfortable recommending the permit.

Nickerson said the money from the vendors, the buses, the Beach to Beacon and park rental fees will go into an account that pays for major projects at the park.

Town Manager Mike McGovern said regular upkeep at Fort Williams costs about $300,000 a year, but the council has been willing to let the commission steer the money raised at the park to capital projects rather than maintenance costs.

“The council has taken a measured approach” to finding more sources of revenue, McGovern said, opting for steps that have minimal impact on park visitors.

He anticipates that next month, the council will review criteria for future park events that include alcohol.

Nickerson said no one wants to harm the park in the process of raising money to fix it up.
“We’re trying to approach all of these things thoughtfully,” he said. “It’s time to look at all these different things and think about how we protect the park, but at the same time how we can generate revenues to improve it.”