Much of Maine Maritime Museum’s $3.4 million front campus improvements project is complete, with the parking lot leveled off and many trees and other plantings in place. Courtesy Maine Maritime Museum

BATH — The Maine Maritime Museum’s front parking area has been through a lot the past several months.

First came the removal in March of most of the campus’s trees, an eye-opening change along Washington Street as the site was cleared to allow for the parking lot to be leveled. The lot previously dipped about 25 feet from Washington Street and then up about the same length along the museum’s 16 steps, an accessibility nightmare for some patrons. Nine thousand yards of fill was brought in to level the grade to about 4 feet from street to entrance and eliminating the need for steps.

Once the lot was repaved and re-opened to vehicles, then came the re-plantings, adding a new touch of life as the museum’s $3.4 million “First Impressions” project moves along. Through next spring, 73 new trees are being planted, along with more than 2,000 shrubs and nearly 1,500 perennials and grasses. The new trees will reflect lumber used in traditional shipbuilding: cedar, larch, oak and white pine.

Patrons familiar with how the campus used to look are “thrilled,” and “really love the accessibility of it, (and) the plantings,” Executive Director Amy Lent said in an interview Oct. 23. The neighbors also have been supportive of the endeavor, despite the long construction process, she said.

A footbridge spanning an island of plantings in the middle of the parking lot, designed to manage stormwater, and the Kennebec Riverwalk boardwalk along the wetlands on the shoreline side of the property are being constructed offsite during the winter for spring installation, museum Marketing & Communications Manager Katie Spiridakis said Oct. 23.

The approximately 180-foot-long boardwalk will offer scenic views of the river, marshlands and Doubling Point Light Station. The public will be able to access all of the green space at no charge.

“First Impressions,” geared toward raising the aesthetics and accessibility of the front campus to the level enjoyed within the museum’s walls and along the Kennebec River side of its campus, is in the final stretch of a two-phase endeavor. When complete, the project will alleviate a lack of functional, handicapped-accessible parking; eliminate front steps, curbs and parking lot surfaces that were deteriorating; create a turning area for buses and sufficient parking for large vehicles; and create a connection between the museum’s north and south parking areas, the absence of which has caused more traffic to spill out to Washington Street.

Along with the parking lot work, sod was laid this summer for the new Kennebec River Great Lawn, adjacent to the museum’s Long Reach Hall, “so that already looks beautiful,” Spiridakis said.

Concrete has been poured for a new arrival plaza that will include an inlaid map of the Kennebec River, which runs behind the campus. The image, to be completed next spring, will trace the river from Moosehead Lake in Greenville to its mouth near Popham Beach in Phippsburg.

“That is going to be the most transformative thing,” Lent said. Benches and signage around the campus will be installed in the spring, too.

The south parking area, notorious as a dusty gravel lot that greeted visitors as they disembarked from cruise ships, has been torn up; final paving of both that and the main parking area, and painting of marked parking places, will take place next spring.

New garden areas will be geared toward providing a more welcoming experience. One garden, next to a museum exhibit about nearby Bath Iron Works, will honor U.S. Navy families.

“There are a number of different gardens and areas that will be specifically named for donors to the project,” Spiridakis said. The museum plans to hold a garden party June 11, 2020, that will serve as a grand opening for donors.

The 200 donors have been a significant part of making the 5-acre project happen. The museum has raised $3.4 million, exceeding its goal by $61,000, Spiridakis said.

“I think as it’s moved along, people have been inspired to give, because they see the great progress that’s being made,” she said.

Stairs and a sloped parking area impeded access to the Maine Maritime Museum before a recently completed excavation and landscaping project. Portland Press Herald

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