About two-dozen garden plots in the Cliffside area of Fort Williams Park are still available for gardeners to help maintain as part of an ongoing adopt-a-plot program.

Maintaining the 20-by-25-foot plots, even into the fall months, say program organizers, is an important part of preserving the health and beauty of one of Maine’s most popular destinations.

In 2012, the Fort Williams Park Foundation began to remove invasive shrubs and vines, including Norway maple, from the Cliffside area of the park as part of the foundation’s Arboretum Project.

Since then, the foundation and other volunteers have replenished the area with native vegetation, such as Eastern red cedar and common milkweed, but now more volunteers are needed to help keep up the Cliffside landscape, as well as other areas.

“In order for us to maintain these improved portions of the park, we really need to have a core group of volunteers to be looking after them,” said Bob Ayotte, president of the Fort Williams Park Foundation.

Calie Ramisch, Fort Williams Park landscape gardener and Adopt-a-Plot coordinator, said some adopters do weeding and mulching at the park up until the snow falls.

“Things slow down a little bit, but there is still maintenance to be done,” she said. “The ongoing maintenance helps us really focus on the invasive species management project in the fall.”

According to Ramisch, several weeds are prominent in late summer, such as dandelions, which are important to remove during this time of year to ensure they don’t return next spring.

“Fall is a great time to cut invasives,” she said. “As plants go into their dormant season they take a lot of their growth and the nutrients, and store it in their roots. If you cut off the nutrient flow, you can really make an effort to starve out the root.”

Since the program’s inception three years ago, 15-20 people have been volunteering their time to care for one of 40 plots at the park in the spring, summer and fall, including Windham resident Larry Allen, who visits the park once every two weeks to pull weeds and clear brush.

“My wife and I go out to the fort quite often,” to spend time near the ocean, said Allen. “It’s such a nice place to go. Now that it’s cleaned up it’s so much nicer. We enjoy it.”

According to Ayotte, the foundation continues to seek volunteers to help maintain the Cliffside area of the park through weeding, mulching, pruning and other crucial maintenance projects.

“It relieves a huge burden from the (Fort Williams Park) Foundation,” Ayotte said.

Adopt-a-Plot, he said, “turned out to be one of the more consistent ways” for the foundation to complete its maintenance projects. It also saves the foundation money by not having to hire contractors, he said.

“It’s a program that allows people to spend time in the park on their own time,” said Ramisch. “It’s really an effort to improve the park, help eradicate invasive species and make the park a healthier place in general.”

According to Ramisch, “there’s a dire need to protect the native plants.”

“We are a very small foundation with a limited budget,” said Ramisch. “Our volunteers are pretty much how we run.”

“When we build one of our sites for the arboretum project, one of the commitments we make, to our donors, the town and ourselves, is that we take care of what we build,” said Ayotte, who adopted his own plot in 2012.

He said it’s up to adopters to visit their plot periodically to take care of it, though not everyone is expected to put in the same amount of time and effort. He said most adopters probably spend an hour or two on a monthly basis weeding and pruning their plots, which each measure roughly 500 square feet.

Ramisch said adopting a plot doesn’t require “much horticultural knowledge. You meet with me, the landscape gardener, you pick your plot, and I tell you what your plot needs.”

According to Ayotte, the program focuses on preserving Cliffside, though the hope is to be able to recruit enough volunteers next spring to begin maintaining plots near the traffic circle in front of the lighthouse, and eventually, the Children’s Garden, which has yet to be built.

“There are lots of places in Fort Williams that are really just a jungle,” said Ayotte, referring to the infestation of invasive plants. “It’s a constant battle.”

The program is not limited to Cape Elizabeth residents. Ayotte said the foundation welcomes folks from surrounding communities to take part in Adopt-a-Plot. Tools, such as rakes, shovels and wheelbarrows, are on hand for people to use, though Ayotte encourages participants to come prepared. Piles of mulch are also available for adopters to apply to their plots.

“We supply what you need,” he said. “It’s very similar to taking care of your own garden at home.”

“It’s a very flexible program,” Ramisch added.

For Ayotte, “it’s rewarding” to maintain a plot at Fort Williams, partly because of the conversations he has with tourists and visitors who commend him for his efforts.

People appear to be appreciative, he said.

“Not only do you get a personal feeling of satisfaction by maintaining something, but you’re doing it for others, as well,” he said.

“It’s a nice way to give back,” Ramisch said.

Allen said he recognizes the need for volunteers at the park, and encourages other people, even those who don’t live in Cape Elizabeth and can’t visit the park regularly, to “come out and help.”

“Why not?” he said. “It’s a nice place to be.”

The Cliffside area of Fort Williams Park, also known as the Cliff Walk, has been the focus of the Adopt-a-Plot program since it began three years ago. Staff photo by Kayla J. CollinsSeveral garden plots are available at Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth for people to adopt as part of an ongoing park maintenance program.Staff photo by Kayla J. Collins

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