SOUTH PORTLAND — A project to revitalize Mill Creek Park will draw visitors into under-used areas of one of the city’s busiest parks.

Work on the 10-acre park began last week. It’s the first major work done on the park since the early 1980s. The project, which is expected to be finished by the end of July, will add seating areas and a new formal entrance to the park.

The $321,000 project is funded by federal Community Development Block Grants. City Manager Jim Gailey said the time has come to invest in the park for future generations.

“Mill Creek Park is the cornerstone of the parks we have and provides year-round use,” he said. “It’s also one of the first parks built in the community.”

Sarah Neuts, the city’s parks superintendent, said the most visible change at Mill Creek will be a plaza surrounding the man-made pond, which has been drained for the construction.

The plaza will be built with granite paver stonework and accommodate extra seating overlooking the pond. A new retaining wall will discourage people from walking on the pond’s edge. The wall will be extended in the future to surround most of the pond.

A new trail system will include paths of crushed stone through various parts of the park, including the under-used grassy area near the intersection of Broadway and Ocean Street. There are no trails through the park now, beyond several paths worn in areas where people walk frequently, Neuts said.

“The trail system will lead people all through the park,” she said. “People tend to gather near the pond. We want to lead people to the service monument and garden.”

The project, which is the first phase of the 2010 Mill Creek Park Master Plan, will add a public garden near the new main entrance, with a wrought-iron gate at the corner of Broadway and Ocean Street.

The garden will have benches and two stone walls, and officials hope it will draw people to that corner of the park and to the veterans’ memorial, which also will have a new seating area.

A fountain will be installed in the pond with a $2,500 grant from Saco & Biddeford Savings Institution.

If funding is available, future work in the park could include additional lighting around the pond, bridges over creeks and erosion control measures where a creek feeds into Mill Cove, Neuts said.

Neuts said she hopes the improvements will encourage more people to discover the park, home of Art in the Park, weekly summer concerts and wintertime ice skating.

“It’s certainly much more busy than it was when I came here 35 years ago,” she said. “Lots of folks in that neighborhood use it as their backyard.”

Staff Writer Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at: [email protected]

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