SCARBOROUGH — Locking wooden gates installed at the renowned Prouts Neck Cliff Walk have raised concerns among residents of Scarborough and beyond who have long enjoyed free public access to the waterfront path and its grand views of the Atlantic Coast.

The Prouts Neck Association, representing residents of an exclusive seaside neighborhood that includes NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, recently installed gates at both ends of the mile-long path to block public access at night and during foul weather, Town Manager Tom Hall said.

The sudden appearance of the gates on the shoreline path has prompted some to wonder if the association took action to demonstrate legal control over land that’s privately owned but has been trod by the public for centuries.

“This (is) potentially a very murky legal matter if public use rights are restricted and I would certainly like to avoid any expensive, protracted litigation,” Hall wrote in an email to town councilors last week.

Hall referenced public waterfront access battles elsewhere in Maine, including the Shore Acres subdivision in Cape Elizabeth, Moody Beach in Wells and Goose Rocks Beach in Kennebunkport. Unlike most other states, Maine’s beaches and other intertidal properties are not owned by the state, though recent court cases have increased public access rights.

Deborah Jackson, the association’s general manager, declined a request for comment from the group’s leadership, saying in an email, “as a matter of policy, we do not make comments to the press.”

Hall met last week with Whit Wagner, association president, after town residents and others posted concerns about the gates on social media.

“Apparently there have been problems after dark with individuals accessing the path and being boisterous and disruptive,” Hall wrote in an email informing town councilors about his meeting with Wagner.

“To discourage this behavior, the association has placed gates that will be closed at dusk or during inclement weather, but will remain open at all other times,” Hall wrote.

Mark Henderson of Saco makes his way along the Cliff Walk at Prouts Neck on Tuesday. The Cliff Walk has drawn increased foot traffic in recent years.  Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

The association pays for a reserve police officer to patrol Prouts Neck year round. In recent months, there was a report of widespread graffiti and another report of broken glass on the path, said Sgt. Steve Thibodeau, police spokesman.

Hall said the association intends to post signs on the gates within a couple of weeks to explain their intended purpose and operation. Existing signs say, “Please enjoy the path at your own risk. No smoking. No bikes. Due to dryness – No fires.”

Hall said that he hasn’t researched property deeds along the path, but he knows for certain that the land isn’t owned by the town or other public entity. The path runs along rocks and beaches, between multimillion-dollar homes and sweeping views of Saco Bay and the open Atlantic.

“It has been suggested that (the deeds) describe ownership to the low-water mark, which includes the path area,” Hall wrote to the council. “This is typical in Maine.”

Hall suggested that town officials monitor the situation and see the signs that the association plans to post on the gates before considering any next steps.

The Cliff Walk has drawn increased foot traffic in recent years with the proliferation of web lists recommending things to do in Maine. Prouts Neck is a gated community and parking near the path is scarce, so visitors to the Cliff Walk must park elsewhere and walk some distance to use it.

Wider interest in Prouts Neck ramped up in 2012, when Goodell started building a house along the Cliff Walk and the Portland Museum of Art welcomed the public to the Winslow Homer Studio, which overlooks the path. The studio, where the famed artist lived and painted from 1883 until his death in 1910, is only accessible by van tours originating in Portland.

A bridge along the Cliff Walk at Prouts Neck, which is managed by the Prouts Neck Association and open to the public. A former Scarborough town councilor called the installation of gates on the trail a “drastic action.”  Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Some fans of the Cliff Walk expressed outrage on social media about the gates and the potential loss of public access.

“This must be stopped! Next our public beaches will end up like Malibu with fake signs and physical barriers at public access points,” Karie Kennedy of Cape Elizabeth wrote on Facebook.

Dan Warren, a former town councilor and lifetime Scarborough resident, said he’s heard from several residents of Scarborough and surrounding communities who are concerned about the gates.

A bench dedicated by the family of C. Gordon Sprague sits along the Cliff Walk at Prouts Neck. Scarborough police say there have been reports of widespread graffiti and broken glass on the path in recent months. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

“My interest is in maintaining a loving, caring relationship with the residents of Prouts Neck,” Warren said. “Anytime you’re dealing with the American public, you’re going to be dealing with issues like trespassing, littering and noise.”

Warren called putting in gates a “drastic action” and suggested it would have been better if the association had reached out to the town for a mutually satisfying solution.

“I hope it’s not a legal line in the sand, because that’s probably not going to end happily,” Warren said. “The association has always been a good guardian of natural resources and I hope that continues.”

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.