AUGUSTA — The future looks bright for Bicentennial Nature Park to reopen this summer after officials decided earlier to shut down the city’s only public swimming spot on a lake.
The City Council closed the park last year to save about $40,000.
However, a citizens group has secured commitments of donated money, materials and manual labor; and city councilors are speaking in favor of a plan to reopen the park this summer. It would be funded by a combination of private and public money.
“May we never close this again,” Councilor David Rollins said to applause from about 40 park supporters at a council meeting Thursday night.
The Friends of Bicentennial Nature Park has raised a total of $13,800 in private donations and commitments for in-kind labor and materials to help reopen the park, according to Cheryl Clukey, chairwoman of the Augusta Parks and Recreation Advisory Board and member of the friends group.
“For many Augusta families, through these economic times, it has become harder and harder to enjoy outdoor recreation, due to the cost of travel,” Clukey said. “We believe they should have a local recreational park where they can swim, hike and have access to a lake, which a lot of people in Augusta don’t have.”
City councilors spoke in favor of a recommendation from City Manager William Bridgeo to take $10,000 from the city’s undesignated fund balance account so that money will be available in time to get the park ready to open June 12 this summer. Councilors also favored putting $20,000 in the budget for the next fiscal year to run the park for the rest of this summer and to reopen it again next summer.
The financial maneuvering is necessary because the park’s summer season straddles two fiscal years, Bridgeo said.
Councilors are scheduled to vote on the use of $10,000 in fund balance money to open the park at their next meeting, and consider the $20,000 to continue operating the park in the coming fiscal year as part of their ongoing budget discussions, which tentatively are scheduled to wrap up in late May.
Private contributions include $4,000 in money and labor from the Augusta Rotary Club, a commitment to raise $2,700 for the park by the current class of the Kennebec Leadership Institute, and an offer from J.S. McCarthy to print 7,000 Bicentennial Nature Park brochures, with a value of $2,200.
Officials anticipate charging for day and seasonal passes to the park will generate an additional $5,000. Leif Dahlin, community services director for the city, said charges probably would range from $2 for a youth day pass to $75 for a family season pass.
Together, using the city funding, private donations and revenue from fees, officials think they can come up with the $31,110 they estimate it will take to open the park from June 12 to Labor Day, seven days a week, eight hours a day.
“This has been an extraordinary example of the people of this community coming together for the quality of life we treasure in Augusta,” said Bob Dodge, secretary of the Augusta Rotary Club. “Let’s open this park.”
Most councilors seemed equally intent on seeing the park reopen.
“We’re all in this together. This is a wonderful thing,” Councilor Patrick Paradis said. “There is some good support on the council for this. I don’t think we dare vote against you after all the efforts you’ve done.”
Keith Edwards — 621-5647