2015-06-05 / Front Page

A new view

Volunteers carve new park from invasive plant
By Duke Harrington
Staff Writer


Dan Hogan, a resident of E Street in South Portland, stands in a small plot of city-owned land located between the Hannaford supermarket and the Pope Preserve, off Cottage Road, which he has been working for the past three years to clear of invasive Japanese knotweed. The carpeting is not trash, but a cover placed purposely to root out the knotweed. (Duke Harrington photo) Dan Hogan, a resident of E Street in South Portland, stands in a small plot of city-owned land located between the Hannaford supermarket and the Pope Preserve, off Cottage Road, which he has been working for the past three years to clear of invasive Japanese knotweed. The carpeting is not trash, but a cover placed purposely to root out the knotweed. (Duke Harrington photo) SOUTH PORTLAND — Next to the Hannaford supermarket in South Portland’s Mill Creek neighborhood, there is a patch of land covered in carpet.

To anybody walking the boardwalk behind the store, the spot might look like a dump of some kind, as if somebody tossed those shag squares along the shore of the Fore River, leaving them to rot in the elements. The more civic-minded resident might be tempted to try and clean up the mess. But don’t, the carpet pieces are there for a reason. They’re part of a project three years in the making that, perhaps counter intuitively, is meant to beautify the area.


A view of the recently cleared parcel between Hannaford and the Pope Preserve in South Portland, from October 2013, after work had begun to clear invasive Japanese knotweed from the site and work on a trail had begun. Base materials were supplied by the South Portland Land Trust. (Courtesy photo) A view of the recently cleared parcel between Hannaford and the Pope Preserve in South Portland, from October 2013, after work had begun to clear invasive Japanese knotweed from the site and work on a trail had begun. Base materials were supplied by the South Portland Land Trust. (Courtesy photo) “My wife and I are runners and we run the Greenbelt Trail extension a lot,” said Dan Hogan, a resident of nearby E Street, on a tour of the area on a recent Friday. “We would end up here, running through the parking lot, and I always thought, gee, wouldn’t it be great if there was a path through here, instead of having the extension just empty into the parking lot.”

Unfortunately, the “here” Hogan pointed to, now covered in carpeting was, at the time, a tangle of Japanese knotweed — a fast-growing plant listed by the World Conservation Union as “one of the world’s worst invasive species.”

“It was just a giant wall of 10- to 12-foottall knotweed,” said Hogan, pointing to the half-acre area now cleared but for the carpeting and a few dead trees, the remnants of native species choked out by the weed.

Working with Jon Dore, then the executive director of the South Portland Land Trust, Hogan got permission from the city to cut a path through the invasives from the end of the Greenbelt Trail Extension boardwalk behind Hannaford, through the adjacent Pope Preserve, to F Street. Later, permission was granted to clear the invasive plant entirely.

And that’s where the carpeting comes in. Hogan works for The Fore River Company, a commercial property development and managing firm based in Portland. Beginning in 2012, when the clearing project started, Hogan had subcontractors working for Fore River bring him carpeting torn out of redeveloped homes, apartments and office buildings. As he’d clear out the knotweed, working a few hours here and there in his spare time, Hogan would spread out the carpet to block the life-giving rays of the sun from reaching the invasive.

“The problem is, this stuff is a monster,” Hogan said. “It’s absolutely insidious. It will grow literally a foot or more in a single day and the only way you can really kill it without using herbicides is to completely cover it in carpeting.”

Hogan found he had to overlap his patchwork rug pieces by at least 2 feet.

“Wherever there was a 1-foot overlap, that thing sees even that much daylight and it shoots in a day right out through there,” Hogan said. “This stuff is like cockroaches. It’s very hard to kill. But we’ll eventually kill 95 percent of it, and then we’ll be vigilant about maintaining the rest.”

In addition to giving its blessing, the city also gave Hogan several loads of bark mulch used to create the walking path between the boardwalk and F Street. Much of the work to create the path and to clear the knotweed not done by Hogan himself was accomplished by land trust volunteers, including Chris Kessler, who lives at the corner of Cottage Road and Thomas Street, within view of the site. From Kessler’s window, where once he saw only an abandoned bramble of dense bamboo-like growth, he now has a clear view of the Pope Preserve mud flats along the Fore River, and the Portland waterfront beyond.

“I saw the potential for greatness to happen there,” Kessler said, when asked why he got involved in the project. “I just wanted to see that space turned into something better and more usable, not just for the neighborhood, but for people who go to Hannaford.”

Hogan, Kessler and the land trust worked with Hannaford on the project. Although it is city land, they wanted to keep the supermarket in the loop.

“They did send some people from corporate over to see who this crazy guy was spreading carpet on the ground next to their store,” Hogan recalled, with a laugh. He also got a visit from Joe Payne, baykeeper for Casco Bay Estuary Project, who stopped by on an annual cleanup day, with his own volunteers in tow and good intentions in mind, hoping to clean up the carpeting.

Since then, with help from the Knightville Neighborhood Association, much of the carpeting has itself gone under cover, to help further bury the knotweed and to make the area look less like a dumping ground.

“I asked my neighbors to give me the leaves they raked up, and they were, like, ‘Sure!’” Hogan said.

Now, with the site largely cleared comes the next, and possible even more difficult step.

“Were trying to get people excited about having a park here,” Hogan said. “I’m trying to gather a committee of people who want to be involved, to figure out what this area wants to be.”

“Personally, I would like it to have a bit of a mixed use,” Kessler said, “to have it be a place were people can go to picnic, but also to launch a canoe or kayak during high tide, but that may require a bit more planning. The next step will be getting the city and the land trust and the other stakeholders involved to formulate an official plan.

“I think there is definitely a need for fi- nancial support for the project, in order to actually do something substantial, such as having a landscape architect involved,” Kessler said.

Doing additional work may take some legal sleuthing, however, as the property has a past almost as tangled as the knotweed that once dominated the plot.

It sits adjacent to the Pope Preserve, a 27-acre expanse of mud flats in Mill Creek Cove. The preserve also includes a 1-acre wooded area of coastal land next to F Street. Purchased by longtime E Street residents Norton and Jennie Pope in 1954, the preserve was sold in 1968 (for $1) to the Nature Conservancy by the Popes’ daughter, Jennie Pope Albion.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the conservancy waged legal war to keep the preserve in its natural state, as dictated in the deed from the Albions. That included a $20,00 court award over a stone jetty built along the mud flats by a developer, although the jetty was allowed to stay and has since contributed to some infilling of the preserve by Casco Bay tides.

In 1985, the conservancy sold the preserve to South Portland (again, for $1) on the condition that it maintain restrictions against development. The deed from that transfer includes the parcel cleared by Hogan and his helpers, although he believes it was not part of the actual preserve. Instead, it appears to have been an abandoned area between the preserve, the Hannaford parking lot extension (a pair of house lots purchased by Hannaford’s predecessor, Martin’s Grocery Store) and “G Street.”

The latter looks to the casual observer to be an access road through Hannaford’s parking lot to the back of the store, but it’s actually a city right-of-way. Once known as G Street, the last of the so-called “alphabet streets” from when Knightville was first laid out, the portion of the street still in use, next to city hall, is now known as Thomas Street.

Hogan said it appears the plot he’s cleared may have been a house lot at one time, based on the remnants of “planted flowers” found beneath the knotwood overgrowth. However those flowers might also have been part of a park. Hogan has found evidence that a “vest park” was planned for the site at the time Martin's was permitted by the city and the boardwalk behind it was built.

For now, Hogan plans to continue work on the site over the summer while he, Kessler and the land trust, working with the Knightville Neighborhood Association, continue to build public interest. A formal presentation and future proposal for the site is expected to be made to the city council this fall or winter.

“It is great that Dan (Hogan) and the land trust have taken an active role in the stewardship of the Pope Preserve,” said City Manager Jim Gailey. “Their efforts in converting a neglected piece of land into a terrific passive open space should be applauded. The fruits of their efforts provide another opportunity for the public to gain access to the city’s valuable waterfront.”

“It’s really an urban jewel, to have this plot in the middle of the city, that is already connected to a public path, that has a nature preserve attached to it,” Hogan agreed. “I mean, c’mon, it has such amazing potential as a place to come and picnic, or just to sit and relax, and reflect, and to watch the birds, or whatever.”

And as Hogan spoke, a cry came from Seagull Rock, out in the middle of the preserve’s mud flats, as if nature itself agreed.

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