We agree with the petitioners. It’s definitely worth saving Saccarappa Park.

If you haven’t heard about it already, there’s a petition circulating in Westbrook hoping to get a question on the June ballot that would ask residents whether they want to prevent the city from developing Saccarappa Park, which is located at the intersection of Bridge and Main streets.

The park, which most passersby probably wouldn’t even consider a park, but more as an empty lot buried among downtown Westbrook’s string of commercial and apartment buildings, is a prime piece of city-owned real estate that affords the best views of Saccarappa Falls.

If Sappi’s towering smokestack is the poster child of the city’s industrial personality, the falls, which sometimes rage and roar and kick up spray during heavy rainfall or after the spring thaw, are the iconic natural image of Westbrook. And the best place to view them is from Saccarappa Park.

The petition effort, led by nearby restaurant owner James Tranchemontagne (who promotes a summer concert series in the park), would halt any prospective sale of the property. Development, petitioners say, would ruin the view of the falls, and therefore strip away some of Westbrook’s sense of place and identity. We agree.

While there is no sale pending, the desire on City Hall’s part to sell the property is itself somewhat surprising. For more than a decade, the city has worked hard to develop and promote the Downtown Riverwalk, which connects Riverbank Park and Saccarappa Park. Some parts feature an actual boardwalk, and it is common to see many pedestrians and cyclists using the wide pathway. Saccarappa Park, as the western terminus of the Riverwalk, provides pedestrians with the hiker’s equivalent of a mountain-top view. The falls, especially after a storm, when water rushes down the Presumpscot River out of Sebago Lake, are more than a fitting reward. Plunking down a building in place of the park is an unwise move for city planners, who have spent much time and taxpayers’ money developing the aesthetics of downtown.

And, sad to say, adding another building to downtown also seems unneeded at this time. Main Street is filled with buildings with humming businesses inside. Unfortunately, it’s also filled with buildings with nothing inside. Bill Baker, Westbrook’s economic development director, who’s famous for going over the falls in a kayak when he first arrived in his former role as the city’s police chief, and other officials should seek to fill the many empty buildings before selling what is one of the few remaining open spaces in that section of the city.

The bridge next to Saccarappa Park is also in the running for replacement by the state. It may be premature to sell the park property when the state is looking to rebuild the Bridge Street bridge and rework the traffic pattern in the area.

Instead of looking to build a new structure, the city should realize the gem it already has in Saccarappa Park and move to improve it. Right now, while the view is spectacular, the park isn’t. Yes, the walkway where views of the falls can be enjoyed is well done with attractive railings and boardwalk. (And it’s also safe, which is appreciated given the drop to the water below.) But, the rest of the park is disgraceful and looks more like a sand lot with a few tufts of grass trying their best to survive despite neglect. Instead of walking away from the parcel, the city should double down and invest in it. Westbrook has done a great job with Riverbank Park and should do the same at Saccarappa. Seek designs from skilled architects and create a place people will want to congregate.

Great urban centers have places where people can get outside and enjoy themselves. Westbrook needs to take better advantage of its green spaces, not sell them off.

– John Balentine, managing editor


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