AUGUSTA — Bicentennial Nature Park is going to take the summer off, despite last-ditch efforts to find a way to keep the swimming spot open by raising money privately and charging user fees.

Community Services Director Leif Dahlin said there’s not enough time, money or staff to open the park this summer. The City Council approved a budget two weeks ago that included no funding for the park, effectively closing it.

“This is late, exceedingly late,” Dahlin told city councilors Thursday when asked if the city could open the park this season. “If I were to tell you I could open it up in a timely manner, I’m kidding you and kidding myself. You could give me all the money in the world to open it up, but I still just don’t have the bodies (of city staff) to throw at it.”

City Councilor Daniel Emery said he and other councilors said they got a lot of feedback from residents who were unhappy that the city-owned park on Three Corner Pond would not open. About 5,000 people used Bicentennial Nature Park last summer.

He said a representative from the Augusta Rotary Club called him to offer the club’s assistance in hosting fundraisers to help open the park.

Emery had proposed a user fee system, charging residents who wish to use the park $10 for a season pass to do so.

However, after hearing from Dahlin about the obstacles to opening the park amid the other tasks city parks and recreation staff have to do, councilors instead agreed to have a committee study ways to make the park’s operation sustainable and aim for opening it up next summer — for good.

“I totally support the spirit of wanting to have Bicentennial Nature Park open,” said Councilor David Rollins. “But we need to look at it as an ongoing operation, not trying to fund it as a one-time project, so every year Bicentennial Nature Park isn’t one of the sacrificial lambs on the chopping block.”

Rollins suggested the city form a partnership with the private sector and residents to find a way to keep the park open in the future.

City Manager William Bridgeo said the city’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission, with input from the Conservation Commission, could look into the issue and make a recommendation to the council.

The city will save $40,000 by not opening it this summer.

Dahlin noted the city charged admission to the park a few years ago, but the cost of collecting the admission fees, between staff time and properly accounting for the money, was more than the total fees collected.

Bridgeo said the park was created with a delicate balance in mind, seeking to provide city residents a place to enjoy nature while appeasing neighboring pond property owners’ concerns about noise and pollution from the site. He said it will take time to come up with a way to reopen the park safely and in a manner that would not upset residents and camp owners on Three Corner Pond.

“I’m very nervous about jumping first and assuming all that is going to work out,” Bridgeo said. “There is a fair amount of responsibility when you assume a swimming venue as a municipality, particularly one crafted in the middle of a residential neighborhood.

“That delicate balance has been conscientiously maintained by the city for 12 years now. I think there is an obligation to continue to honor that.”

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

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