People visit Portland Head Light at Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth in May 2019. Gregory Rec / Portland Press Herald

CAPE ELIZABETH — The Fort Williams Park Committee is still gathering public input on its plan for the park’s future. So far, it looks like the biggest interest lies in preserving the park’s natural beauty and discouraging more vehicular traffic.

“They want us to preserve what’s there, not to over-commercialize it,” said Kathy Raftice, director of community services and Fort Williams Park.

The 90-acre park, owned by the town of Cape Elizabeth, is popular for its ocean views, trails and recreational areas. The adjacent Portland Head Light is the oldest lighthouse in Maine.

The Fort Williams Park committee is working on the park’s master plan, which sets goals for development and improvements and gets updated every 10 years. Members anticipate finishing a draft and presenting it for town council approval next month.

The committee has been working since September and is now seeking suggestions from the public. A series of virtual forums were held earlier this month and members of the public are being asked to fill out an online survey.

Jim Kerney, a member of the committee, said public outreach will help shape the plan for the park’s future.

“The purpose is to get input from all the stakeholders that use Fort Williams Park,” he said.

Kerney said the plan, once complete, will provide short- and long-term recommendations to town officials on issues such as infrastructure, safety, parking and drainage.

So far, Kerney said, one of the bigger public concerns appears to be traffic. The park, he noted, is on the property of what was originally an army outpost, not a tourist attraction, so managing the flow of visitors has always been challenging.

But in recent years it has gotten worse. Kerney said an exact count of vehicles is not available, but the number of visitors is estimated at 1 million per year. He said in a typical year, more than 1,000 motor coach buses also visit the park, with more than 700 of those associated with cruise ships that dock in Portland.

“We know that number has probably doubled in the past five-to-10 years,” he said.

Dave McGillivray, director of the annual Beach to Beacon road race, spoke at one of the forums. With the popular run ending at the park, he said, enhancing the park’s beauty can only improve the race year after year.

“The Fort is a key component, if not the key component of the event,” he said.

McGillivray said he’d like to see improvements to the field near Portland Headlight, such as making the field more level, adding some new turf or improving irrigation to make the field even more attractive. He said he was glad to offer suggestions to the committee, and encouraged others to do so, too.

“We use it, so we should always want to help improve it,” he said.

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