AUGUSTA — If a group of residents have their way and have success raising money, the gate at Bicentennial Nature Park will swing open this summer.

The city-owned park never opened last summer, after city councilors and City Manager William Bridgeo decided to keep it closed to save about $40,000, despite the objections of a few residents who urged the city to keep the small, pristine park on Three Corner Pond open.

A group of residents, including representatives from the local Rotary and Kiwanis clubs, Kennebec Leadership Institute, and Augusta Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, have been meeting to make plans and are raising money in hopes of reopening the park this summer.

“A lot of people were frustrated because this park is beautiful and a gift to Augusta,” said Cheryl Clukey, chairwoman of the Augusta Parks and Recreation Advisory Board. “It’s about the only place in Augusta where kids can swim. A lot of people don’t have their own camp to go to. We’re working hard. It’s a great group of people with the same interest — to get this park open.”

Clukey said they’d raised, or had commitments for, about $6,000 so far, as well as commitments to provide labor for work at the park, such as painting and raking.

She said their goal is to raise between $10,000 and $12,000 privately, with hopes the city would contribute matching funds to help open the park.

Clukey said they believe the park can be opened on a budget of about $31,000.

There is no money in the proposed city budget, which is currently being debated by city councilors, to open the park, according to City Manager William Bridgeo.

However, Bridgeo said he is aware of the community-based efforts to raise funds to reopen the park, and in his budget message to city councilors, he recommended that if they wish to contribute funds to reopen the park, they should take the money from the city’s undesignated fund balance, or reserve account.

Leif Dahlin, director of community services for the city, said he has kept in communication with the citizens group who wish to reopen the park.

“They’ve been working hard to put together a proposal for the council to consider,” Dahlin said of the group. “We’d encourage folks who have sentiments or thoughts, one way or the other, to share their thoughts and ideas.”

City councilors are scheduled to discuss the park at a meeting beginning at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in council chambers at Augusta City Center. Clukey encouraged people who want to see the park reopen to attend the meeting.

Clukey said as organizers have spoken with people and businesses in the area seeking support for reopening the park, she’s been struck by how many people aren’t familiar with the park, or don’t know where it is, off North Belfast Avenue.

“It’s Augusta’s best-kept secret,” she said of the park. “I’m not sure it has been promoted as well as it could have been over the last years.”

The group, Friends of Bicentennial Nature Park, has a Facebook page under that name.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647
[email protected]

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