A cyclist rides through the empty parking lot in front of the Portland Headlight at Fort Williams Park in 2020. Brianna Soukup / Portland Press Herald

CAPE ELIZABETH — Public input on the master plan for Fort Williams Park came down to three simple messages: Don’t expand, control the crowds and raise fees for out-of-town visitors.

Just over 630 people, all but 100 of them Cape Elizabeth residents, responded to an online survey asking what they wanted to see at the park in the years to come. The 90-acre former military fort, owned by the town of Cape Elizabeth, is popular for its ocean views, trails and recreational areas. The adjacent Portland Head Light was the first commissioned lighthouse in the country.

The Fort Williams Park Committee is working on the park’s master plan, which sets goals for development and improvements with updates every 10 years.

Survey results were on the town’s website Feb. 12.

When asked, “What do you like least about the park?” states the summary of results, “Predominant answers centered around these themes – crowding, overuse, traffic (in the Park and on Shore Road) and tourists.”

Park managers have said there is no official annual count of visitors per year, but estimate there are as many as 1 million, many arriving via tour buses.


“It’s one of those hard-to-control aspects of a park that is so beautiful,” said Park Director Kathy Raftice.

Raftice said respondents also said they did not want to see the park expanded.

“They are happy with the way the park is,” she said. “They don’t want it over manicured or over-commercialized.”

Respondents did say they want the town to increase fees to defray costs. According to the results, 532 people suggested increasing the rates for tour buses, 490 said they wanted to see rates go up for special events such as weddings and private gatherings, and 439 respondents suggested increasing the fees associated with the TD Beach to Beacon 10K. Organizers for the popular race founded by Olympic gold medalist Joan Benoit Samuelson did not respond to requests for comment before The Forecaster’s deadline.

Town Manager Matt Sturgis said the town has raised fees for park usage over the years and called the public’s suggestion for raising them again “a reasonable request.” He did not know, however, whether raising fees would help control traffic.

“It’s one way that could be attempted,” he said.

Raftice said officials are still working on the details of the park’s master plan, but she expects a public hearing to happen sometime in May.

“There’s still a lot of work to go forth,” she said.

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