Pondicherry Park: a dream come true

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

INTOWN TRAILS FOR THE AGES — Six trails have been created within the 65-acre Pondicherry Park, which officially became a town park on Wednesday. The half-mile Snowshoe Hare trail loop at the top of the map is the only one that allows pets on leashes. The dog-walking trail can be accessed by trailheads at the Bob Dunning Memorial Bridge or across from Bridgton Hospital on South High Street. (Geraghty photo)

The excitement built as around 50 people — and a half dozen or so dogs — gathered on the Bob Dunning Memorial Bridge Tuesday, awaiting the ribbon-cutting to dedicate the official gifting of Pondicherry Park to the people of Bridgton.

Smiles were everywhere, and the speeches preceding the ribbon-cutting reflected a sense that Bridgton had accomplished something pretty special by creating a 65-acre nature park with guided trails smack dab in the middle of downtown.

For Jim Mains Jr., executive director of the Greater Bridgton Lake Region Chamber of Commerce, the moment was especially sweet, as he recalled his childhood days growing up on South High Street, spending hours playing cowboys and Indians within the woods that now comprise the park. “We played all through here,” he said.

Now, he said he routinely directs visitors to the Chamber’s office to the park. “This is a tremendous boost to the town,” he said.

“You have no idea how many cities would love to have this in their town,” said newly-elected Bridgton Selectman Bob McHatton.

Selectman Woody Woodward said visitors to his lakeside resort are amazed when they learn of the park’s existence. “A new park? Downtown? Well maintained, with some handicapped access?” said Woodward, of visitors' responses to the news. This is one of the goals envisioned by the 2004 Comprehensive Plan, he pointed out, and now it has come to fruition.

Outgoing Selectman Art Triglione said he was cautious about the idea at first, worrying over what it would cost taxpayers, when the Loon Echo Land Trust and Lakes Environmental Association first proposed the idea. The two environmental organizations launched a fund drive to purchase the land from property owners, and voters agreed last year to take over ownership of the park.

“But I fell in love with it, right at the beginning,” said Triglione, as he saw the way it was bringing the community together to work toward a common goal. “The ladies got their dog trail, and this is what it’s all about. I’m thrilled I was a part of it,” Triglione said.

Bridgton Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz called the park’s creation “a labor of love,” and gave special thanks to LELT’s and LEA’s executive directors, Carrie Walia and Peter Lowell, for their willingness to negotiate terms of the transfer with a committee comprised of himself and Selectmen Bernie King and Doug Taft.

“We got to the table, and within two hours, we all had the same goals in mind,” Berkowitz said. He said the park shows that Bridgton is “a community that can look into the future.”

Also on hand for the ribbon-cutting were Planning Board Chairman Steve Collins, Planning Board member Ken Murphy, Administrative Assistant Georgianne Fleck, Taft and Selectman Paul Hoyt.

After the ribbon-cutting, the pooches led the way for an inaugural stroll along the .6-mile dog-friendly loop trail that extends from the bridge to follow the park’s northerly boundary up to South High Street and then back down around to the bridge. The park has a total of around 2.5 miles of trails, with three miles being the maximum. Park rules require that visitors with pets use a leash at all times and pick up pet waste.

A legal closing on the 65-acre park transfer occurred Wednesday, June 27, at 2 p.m. at the Bridgton Municipal Complex, when the property deed was granted from LELT to the town, and the conservation easement was reserved.

The town will be seeking candidates to fill the three vacant seats on the Pondicherry Park Stewardship Committee. Two additional seats will be filled by LELT and LEA. The committee will assist the Bridgton Public Works Department with the weekly and seasonal maintenance needs at the park.

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