SOUTH PORTLAND – A decade ago when the Frank Kemna paid to have a bench installed in honor of his parents, longtime operators of the Willard Beach Inn, along the path to Fisherman’s Point, it provided a spectacular spot from which to view Spring Point Ledge Light, on the other side of the Simonton Cove.

But then came bittersweet, an invasive plant that all but took over the hillside. Over time, the tangled brush grew so tall and so thick that it became a veritable wall of knotty bark and leaves, blocking everything from view across the path from the bench. The city continued to maintain the 3-foot wide path from the end of Deake Street to the point, but the tangled overgrowth took over everything else.

Until last weekend. On Saturday, a dozen residents of the Willard Beach area turned out to do battle with the bittersweet, not to mention the crisp morning sea breeze. Two hours later, the war was over. The brush lost.

But the work was not just about restoring a view. It’s about reducing crime.

Last summer, Natalie West rented a paddleboard to ride the waves of Casco Bay. Looking back at Fisherman’s Point, amidst the tangled growth, she saw something that seemed out of the ordinary.

“This is just speculation, of course, but I’m pretty sure I saw a drug deal going down,” she said, as she worked to haul off a load of cut branches.

If so, it would not be unusual. Almost everyone on the work crew had a tale of illicit drug use or underage drinking parties spotted in the bittersweet tunnel that had grown up around the walking path. Worst of all, the brush blocked from view the historic, century-old fishing shacks at the end of the point. As such, they became a frequent target of graffiti.

For a time, members of the Willard Beach Association labored over the shacks, painting over each new defacing with a fresh coat of paint. However, with the latest repainting this past August, the city has taken over that task.

“We made the decision that if it does get graffitied again, the citizens shouldn’t be responsible for that,” said Patrick McArdle, aquatic coordinator with the city’s parks and recreation department, called in to supervise the resident work crew.

According to McArdle, while the city has stepped up its park maintenance in recent years, it never had the resources to attack Fisherman’s Point, beyond maintaining the path and shacks.

“The great thing,” said Councilor Michael Pock, who took part in the cleanup, “is that now, the police can park at the end of Deake Street, shine their lights down and see all the way to the shacks. That should help to discourage a lot of what has gone on here. It is a city park after all. There’s not supposed to be any drinking or smoking, but the kids come down here and drink and smoke all the time. And, by the time the police get down here, they’re gone. And, as soon as we paint over the graffiti, they’re back with more.”

“It’s still a lot nicer of an area than it was 30 years ago,” said Frank Kemna, “It used to be really rough.

Pock also pointed out that the work was a sort of healing event for the community, with supporters and opponents of the recent tar-sands fight turning out to lend a hand.

“There are some people here who were on the Yes side. I was on the No side. But we’re all here because we care about the city, taking our frustrations out on the weeds instead of each other,” he said with a laugh.

The path to Fisherman’s Point in front of the Kemna Memorial Bench as it looked at 8 a.m. on Saturday, Nov. 9, before a community cleanup day.Path after the community cleanup event.

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