Funds okayed for historic walking trail

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

Tom Stone wasn’t sure he heard correctly when the Bridgton Board of Selectmen voted March 12 to fully fund a long-awaited plan to create a Historic Walking Trail in the downtown.

At first, the Bridgton Historical Society Trustee thought the board was still debating, as it had been for two meetings now, about asking Town Meeting voters whether a walking trail was worth $3,100 — the amount needed to get the project up and running by Memorial Day.

But the board surprised him. They agreed to take the full $3,100 out of contingency to pay for the brochures, map and bulletin board, only asking that any private donations be used to offset that amount. Stone, who appeared at the mic, poised to restate the reasons behind the funding request, realized then he’d gotten what he came for. He quickly sat down.

The board last month had suggested a partial funding by taking $700 from contingency funds to pay for materials so that vocational students could construct a waterproof bulletin board before school lets out in June. But on March 12, selectmen realized that if a decision on remaining funding was delayed until the June Town Meeting, it would delay the project from being ready by this summer as the society had intended.

The bulletin board is needed to house a large 1871 map that will show historic homes along the walking trail route and serve as the starting point for the trail. Streets that are included in this first phase of the trail are South High Street, North High Street to Farragut Park, the Fowler/Church Street area, Depot Street and Main Street.

There was considerable discussion about the society’s chosen location for the bulletin board. They plan to place it in front of the side entrance to Renys on Depot Street, Stone said society members saw the Renys side entrance as providing high visibility for the target audience of summer visitors to Bridgton.

But Selectman Woody Woodward said some local businesspeople had a “philosophical difference of opinion” as to the location of the bulletin board, believing it should be located on Main Street instead.

Member Doug Taft said there already exists a map of Bridgton on Main Street. It is enclosed in Plexiglass and mounted on the side of the building where Southern Maine Retirement Services is located. Taft asked why that wouldn’t perhaps be a suitable location as a starting point for the tour.

Stone said there’s nothing to prevent a second map from being placed in the future where Taft suggested. But he pointed out that historical society members spent many months planning the project in its initial phase, which involves designated historical buildings on both North and South Main Streets and Main Hill. Plans call for the brochures to be placed below the bulletin board by the Renys entrance, but Stone said it  would also be possible for local businesses to carry copies of the brochure for distribution.

Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz said it would be important to have the project funded before Town Meeting so that summer visitors could start using the trail this year. Signs will be placed on each of the properties with descriptions corresponding to information in the brochure.

The self-guided historical walking trail will focus on the many fine examples of New England architecture that are found in Bridgton. Sites of long forgotten landmarks such as the mills, hotels and railroad buildings that once existed will also be included. The initial idea for this project was brought to the society by a group of local residents and business owners who thought that highlighting some of the town's heritage and architectural sites would promote civic pride and enhance tourism.

To determine if property owners would be interested in this endeavor, a letter of intent was sent to a small sampling of property owners. The responses were very favorable. Each of the corresponding homes, public and commercial buildings and other landmarks will be identified with a plaque.

As the project progresses, additional town districts will identified and added to the walking trail. Home and business owners who would like to participate are invited to contact the Bridgton Historical Society at 647-3699 or by e-mail at info@bridgtonhistory.org.

 

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