SACO – With plans firmly in place to connect the RiverWalk between Biddeford and Saco with the construction of a pedestrian bridge over the Saco River next spring, the attention of the RiverWalk Coalition has now turned to the creation of a new boat launch at Mechanics Park.
Alix Hopkins, director of the RiverWalk Coalition, said the boat, launch, which would be mostly used by those with canoes or kayaks, is “especially exciting because it adds a new dimension to the range of RiverWalk uses and activities and attracts a new and broader audience to appreciate it – all right in downtown Biddeford.”
Greg Tansley, the city planner in Biddeford, added, “This facility will provide unprecedented access to the Saco River and the Atlantic Ocean from the downtown and Mill District. It is located at the easternmost leg of the RiverWalk and will anchor the RiverWalk as a point of public access to the tidal portion of the river. In my opinion, providing public access in this way will open up the river and coast to a large downtown community that otherwise has not had such access. I am very excited that we are able to move forward with this.”
Tansley said a grant is funding the engineering and design for the new boat launch, and he hopes construction on the facility could begin next spring. However, that would depend on whether the RiverWalk Coalition is able to get enough money to cover the costs.
He said funding for the design and engineering phase of the project is coming from the Maine Coastal Program, which is now a part of the state’s Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry.
“Funding for construction is yet to be determined, but may be available through our local Mill District Tax Increment Finance fund,” Tansley said.
But, use of the TIF money for construction of the boat launch would require City Council authorization.
Tansley said this week that he would be “aggressively pursuing construction funding and hopes to have the facility open to the public (by) mid-summer (of 2014).”
He also said a final location for the boat launch has yet to be chosen, and that it would only be open to small, non-motorized boats that can be easily carried.
“Our goal is to work with the city, the consultants and the steering committee to design and locate the boat launch in the most practical, accessible and safe location,” Hopkins said.
She also said the whole goal of the boat launch is “to offer small boats access to the river – giving people a different perspective of Biddeford and Saco from the water, plus greater opportunities to explore the river and enjoy the scenery.”
She added, “It will (also) provide residents and visitors with a downtown boat launch for recreational paddling or fishing and encourage them to spend time downtown or on the RiverWalk before or after (their trip).”
The RiverWalk runs along Front Street in Saco and across Main Street to Saco Island. On the Biddeford side of the Saco River, the walk runs from Mechanics Park through the Pepperell Mill Campus, which includes the Pepperell Mills, the North Dam Mill and the River Dam Mill.
The ultimate goal is for the RiverWalk to continue up past the now-defunct Maine Energy Recovery Co. trash incinerator, which is in the process of being decommissioned, to the former Diamond Match property, which the city of Biddeford owns and plans to turn into a park.
Hopkins said the overall vision for the RiverWalk, on both sides of the river, has been “to be as collaborative and inclusive as possible, ensuring that there is something for everyone to enjoy. This project goes a long way toward realizing that vision.”