The draft of a master plan for the Western Promenade has been completed. The plan attempts to document the site’s history and landscaping while envisioning a future for the historic park. Courtesy / Western Promenade Master Plan

PORTLAND — The Western Promenade dates back to 1830s, but unlike other large city parks, there is no official plan to chart its future and preserve its history.

That is about to change.

The final draft of a master plan attempts to restore the park’s scenic vistas; update seating, lighting and landscaping; improve the dog park and other amenities on Valley Street; improve walkways, crosswalks; construct a new playscape; install interpretive signs and a food truck parking area, and reintroduce historical elements lost over the years, including a gazebo pavilion and a stairway from Valley Street. Projects would be paid for through a combination of fundraising and city funding.

Following final review by the Parks Commission Feb. 5, the Historic Preservation Board was scheduled to make its review Feb. 19 and potentially pass it on to the City Council for approval.

“I think opening up  the vistas and cutting back some of the undergrowth will make the park even more welcoming and friendly in a lot of ways. That is something I am particularly excited about,” said Matthew Hyde, president of the Friends of the Western Promenade.

The Friends group worked with the city’s parks and recreation department, planning and urban development’s historic preservation program and Kyle Zick Landscape Architecture to come up with the plan.

Based on the work of the master plan committee and feedback from the public, Hyde said, recommendations have been prioritized into two groups, The first tier includes restoring the views, estimated at $250,000; seating improvements, $90,000; walkway improvements,  $950,000, with a $40,000 design fee; reintroducing the pavilion, $250,000; lighting improvements, $1.5 million with a $25,000 design fee, and interpretive signs, $85,000, with $10,000 design fee.

The gazebo pavilion, Hyde said, would allow the park, like Fort Allen Park on the Eastern Promenade, to host summer concerts.

“Historically, there is a precedent for events on the Western Prom,” he said.

The second priority projects include replacing and planting more trees along the esplanades,  $350,000; improvements to Valley Street Park, $500,000, with a $60,000 design fee; reducing the width of Western Promenade roadway, $1.5 million with $70,000 design fee; and a new playscape and other projects at Prospect Park, $250,000.

The Valley Street Park improvements, Hyde said, will make that area safer and more appealing and will better connect it with the upper section of the park.

“We are really excited about this,” Hyde said. “(The Western Prom) was the last significant park to get a master plan, which serves to inform the city on an ongoing basis so we can make improvements and restorations in the park. This is a big step and we are excited to be on the cusp of raising money to make these improvements.”

Land for on the Western Promenade was first set aside in the 1830s as a place for the public to enjoy scenic views of the Fore River and, in the distance, the White Mountains in New Hampshire. Over the next few decades, with the help the noted landscape architects the Olmstead brothers, former Portland Mayor James Phinney Baxter and former city engineer William Goodwin, the park developed from a tree-lined carriage road to a public park with walking trails, space for events and even a toboggan run and ski jump. The site was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989.

“Western Promenade was always intended as a passive recreation park which focused on the outstanding views and the borrowed landscape on the peninsula of Portland. The natural resources for which the park was established are obscured and it now functions more of a neighborhood park rather than a destination for visitors. As vegetation has grown over time and amenities have been added to the park since the period of significance (1836 to 1920), the historic character of Western Promenade has degraded,” according to the final draft master plan.

Deb Andrews, the city’s historic preservation manager, told the Forecaster in December that the Western Prom is Portland’s only designated historic landscape area that lacks a master plan. Other historic landscape areas include Baxter Boulevard, Deering Oaks, the Eastern Promenade and Lincoln Park. Historic landscape master plans are “valuable” tools in evaluating future construction projects and funding requests, she said in a Feb. 13 letter to the Historic Preservation Board.

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