2018-04-06 / Front Page

Visitors to fort could have to pay to park

By Ben Meiklejohn
Contributing Writer

CAPE ELIZABETH – The tide may be turning on local attitudes toward free parking at Fort Williams Park, leading to possible changes down the road. Town Council Chairman Jessica Sullivan said it’s an “up and coming issue” due to increased use of the park in recent years.

“We’ll be looking this year at whether or not to change that because it’s never been free to Cape Elizabeth taxpayers,” Sullivan said. “There is tremendous wear and tear.”

According to Public Works Director Robert Malley, programs for maintenance of the park have been allocated $258,743 in this year’s budget, funded primarily by personal property and excise taxes.

“The park generates approximately $200,000 in revenue from a combination of site fees, bus and trolley fees, ceremony fees, facility rentals, concessions, and donations,” Malley added.

Town Manager Matthew Sturgis said the $258,743 allocated by the town account for expenditures incurred by the town above and beyond that which is offset by revenue.

Sturgis said overall costs for the park include employing rangers and a parks crew and maintaining parking areas, pavement and guard rails. Additionally, he said there are capital projects such as rehabbing the basketball court, at $65,000 and stabilizing a wall at Battery Blair Memorial, at $66,000.

The Portland Head Light Museum and Gift Shop accounts for an additional $576,000, but is budgeted for separately and not included in the Fort Williams Park maintenance allocation, Malley said.

Sullivan said Fort Williams wasn’t originally intended to be a park.

“It was not built for this purpose. It was a military fort and now it’s a park that tons of people visit every year,” Sullivan said. “We’re really at the point of looking at how we manage it. It may be time to ask people to pay to park. People pay to go into state and national parks.”

Sturgis said, “The dialogue has shifted when it comes to thinking about the park. It’s just the sheer volume of visitors we get, it’s going to overwhelm the town at some point. We won’t be able to keep up if we can’t adequately fund the wear and tear and we want to be able to keep it special.”

Sturgis said use of the park has grown and unofficial estimates are that .75 to 1 million people visit the park each year. Tour buses have contributed to some of those increased visits, he added.

“We have more visits from cruise ship traffic that we didn’t use to have. It’s a dramatic increase year over year,” he said. “With the sheer volume delivered by their buses, it was wise to charge fees for the buses and trolleys.”

Sturgis said day visits by people traveling to the park in cars has also increased and it is commonly difficult to find parking.

Residents have previously voted down referendums asking whether a pay to park program should be instituted at Fort Williams Park. In 2010, voters not to in an advisory referendum, with 1,262 in favor and 2,532 against. The 2006 referendum failed with 1,951 in favor and 3,145 against.

Sullivan said much has changed since those referendums however.

“The townspeople said no, they wanted to keep Fort Williams Park free, but in my opinion, that sentiment has changed,” she said. “It’s a growing expense, so it’s time to look at asking people to pay for parking. I don’t know how the council will land on that ultimately. I and other councilors have had complaints that (residents) don’t even enjoy (the park) ... People in town are very frustrated ... Councilors are interested in taking a very real look at it.”

Return to top