PORTLAND — It has been home to carriage trails, gardens, a toboggan run and even a ski jump.

But it’s what comes next for the Western Promenade that concerned about 20 people at a public meeting at Reiche School April 25.

“There are no design decisions being made,” Kyle Zick of Boston-based KZLA landscape architects said when leading off the gathering. However, the range of considerations for a master plan for the park that stretches from Maine Medical Center toward Danforth Street includes plantings, playgrounds and preserving the view.

On Monday, city Parks, Recreation & Facilities Deputy Director Ethan Hipple said funding for the $37,000 master plan process is split evenly between a Maine Historic Preservation Commission grant to the city and money raised by the Friends of Western Promenade.

The Friends formed as a nonprofit last year; it is hoped a master plan will be completed by September.

The Western Promenade, with design elements and features set out by the firm of landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, was first considered prime publicly owned open space almost 200 years ago. 

Hipple said it is the only city park of its size without a master plan, and with MMC setting aside $300,000 to help pay for maintenance and amenities in area parks, it is time to define what the city and public want.

Park planning also includes the area below the Promenade, along Valley Street.

To this point, the Friends and KZLA have been documenting the history and elements of the park. On April 25, KZLA Senior Associate Danielle Desilets said it took about 80 years to secure all the land.

As rail service came to Portland and Union Station was built on St. John Street, the neighborhood became more settled. Carriage trails leading up from Valley Street are now part of the Portland Trails network.

A gazebo designed by John Calvin Stevens was built in the late 19th century and the statue honoring former Republican U.S. Rep. Thomas Brackett Reed was dedicated in 1909.

The toboggan run was built in 1919, the ski jump five years later as part of a winter carnival. The park was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989.

So what of its future? Hipple, Zick, Desilets and the Friends want opinions before a second public meeting in June. The KZLA presentation is online at bit.ly/2UHY3bH, where there is also an eight-question survey.

West End resident Desi Van Til said she uses the park nearly every day.

“I cross country ski there. I go there in blizzards, and to picnic, too,” she said while advocating for a playground that would fit into the park setting.

The consultants would also like to know how the public feels about rebuilding the gazebo torn down around 30 years ago, and having a carousel. Hipple said a priority is to improve the network of trails from near MMC to Valley Street so it will be easier to clear them in the winter.

Carol De Tine, also of the West End, asked those paths be considered as more than just for MMC staff.

“They were my Stairmaster,” she said of the old wooden steps leading down to Valley Street.

De Tine also suggested adding more benches and having them closer together so it felt less intrusive to walk by people sitting on them.

David Harry can be reached at 780-9092 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

The view from the Western Promenade in Portland. A master plan will help define what visitors want to see in the park’s future.

The Western Promenade park area extends from Maine Medical Center, far left in this aerial view, to Danforth Street, and includes land off Valley Street at the base of the hill.

A master plan for Western Promenade won’t likely include a ski jump to replace one built in 1924, but a gazebo could return.

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