Chris Thompson, of Scarborough, walks his dog, Casco, at Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth Monday. The park has re-opened to foot and bicycle traffic only. Sean Murphy / The Forecaster

CAPE ELIZABETH — Monday was a perfect day to go out to Cape Elizabeth’s Fort Williams Park for some fresh air. At sunrise, 5:20 a.m., there was only a little wind carrying the salt air ashore, and the sun lit up puffy clouds a gorgeous palette of red, pink and orange.

One of many warning signs now posted at Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth. Staff photo: Sean Murphy

It would have been a typical spring day at the park except for the signs warning visitors about the coronavirus, placards advising residents to abide by a new emergency order and to leash their pets, and other not-so-subtle reminders that COVID-19 remains a threat.

After being closed for more than a month due to officials’ concerns about spreading the coronavirus, the park opened Monday to foot and bicycle traffic. Sawhorses prevent vehicles from parking in the park’s main lots. Only one small area, just up the street from the park’s main entrance on Shore Road, allowed parking, and those few spaces were filled within 10 minutes of the park’s opening.

Inside, it was a quiet morning. Only nine people were on site for the first hour, but those who came — dog walkers, joggers and locals just looking to take a walk or gaze at the view — were enjoying the open air.

Matt Michaud, who lives in the Oakhurst neighborhood across from the park’s main entrance, said he was “very relieved” to hear the park was reopening. He often visited pre-pandemic to take pictures of the sunrise.

“As much as I can, I come down here,” he said.

A number of other regulars, he said, shared his relief about the reopening.

Parking lots inside the park are off limits. Sean Murphy / For The Forecaster

“This is like our backyard, and we’re fortunate to have it,” he said.

The park had been closed since April 1, a precaution dovetailing on Gov. Janet Mills’ initial emergency orders to close down all non-essential businesses and services to halt the virus’ spread. At the town council’s April 28 meeting, after the governor announced a multi-stage plan for re-opening the state, the council agreed to re-open the park. But that could only happen after it could be made ready with new signage warning people to maintain social distancing, the removal of portable toilets and the roping off picnic areas usually available for rental by large groups and other changes.

“We tried to eliminate as many common touch points as possible,” Chris Cutter, the park’s coordinator, said Monday, gesturing to a swing set with the swings removed.

Cutter said the new restrictions haven’t dampened the spirits of the park’s visitors, many of whom are longtime attendees.

“People are glad to be in the park,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of smiles, a lot of ‘Welcome backs.’ ”

Bob Davis of Cape Elizabeth was walking his 12-year-old Labrador retriever Katie and abiding by another condition of the parks’ reopening: all pet owners are required to keep dogs on leashes to keep their owners from inadvertently getting too close to other people. Like the park’s other visitors, Davis wished there didn’t need to be such conditions, but he was happy to be able to resume a daily constitutional that, until now, he had maintained for the past 12 years.

Swings have been removed at Fort Williams Park to eliminate common touch points. Sean Murphy / The Forecaster

“I wish (Katie) didn’t have to be on a leash, but it’s understandable,” he said.

Chris Thompson, of Scarborough, and his 7-month-old golden retriever, Casco, were also taking in the scenery. Thompson said he and Casco were both “very excited” to be able to come to the park again.

“We try to get here a few times a week,” he said.

According to Town Manager Matthew Sturgis, just under 1 million people visit the park every year, generating about half a million dollars in revenues from parking, rental fees for picnic areas, and other park-related sources.

Sturgis said there’s little chance the park’s coronavirus shutdown will impact the 2020 fiscal year, which ends on June 30. It’s impossible to know what impact it will have on the park’s fiscal 2021 revenues, since no one yet knows when the parking lots will be allowed to reopen. It’s not known yet either, he said, whether the virus will impact the flow of tourists to the state, which could also be a factor.

“We’re keeping an active eye on it,” he said.

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