SKOWHEGAN — Removal of trees that obscured the Skowhegan Indian sculpture has made the 62-foot wooden statue more visible and an anchor of downtown revitalization.

Taking the trees down earlier this month is part of a landscaping plan for the area in front of the iconic sculpture, said Dugan Murphy, executive director at the non-profit Main Street Skowhegan.

The downtown revitalization project got another boost Tuesday night when the Skowhegan Board of Selectmen, with two newly elected members, voted to accept $400,000 in state block grant money for the second round of the downtown revitalization program in the municipal parking lot.

The money will pay for the final phase of a makeover of the parking lot, an important part in improving the appearance of the downtown business district. The town also will match the grant with $100,000 from the downtown tax increment financing district. If another $100,000 state grant the town has applied for comes through, then the TIF money will not be needed.

Jeffrey Hewitt, the town’s economic and community development director, said a safe, attractive downtown parking lot with trees, benches and sidewalk islands will help make Skowhegan a destination for visitors and shoppers. When the project is complete, there will be approximately 120 parking spaces in the municipal parking lot, down from about 140.

Hewett said the project is especially important to attractions near the parking area, such as the proposed Run of River white water park in the Kennebec River Gorge, which runs through downtown, as well as the Skowhegan Farmers’ Market and businesses inside the Somerset Grist Mill, including a yarn shop and a radio station coming this summer.

The overall project includes pedestrian walkways, light poles, trees, benches, granite curbs and directional signs. The new municipal parking lot will feature raised landscaping, including about 20 flowering trees and 15 hardwood trees, with several varieties of maple. Total funding received for the revitalization project comes to about $950,000, including $400,000 in state bond money for the first phase.

Construction on of the project got underway May 1 in the lot next the Grist Mill, High Street and the Hight auto dealership.

The plan for the Indian includes restoration of the aging sculpture with $65,000 raised over the past two years, Murphy said. Money was raised by the Chamber of Commerce and Main Street Skowhegan, along with $10,000 from the town approved at the 2013 Town Meeting.

Murphy said some money for the restoration was freed up recently when the Benjamin Moore company offered to donate the paint that will be used to restore the sculpture. That money was used for tree removal.

“All along the way, since we’ve been fundraising, we have been hearing fairly regularly from people that tree removal was very important to them because they felt seeing the sculpture better was as important, almost, to them as actually restoring the sculpture itself,” Murphy said. “We’ve been hearing a lot of positive comments from people; for a lot of people it’s the first really positive sign of progress at the site.”

The Indian, completed by artist Bernard Langlais in 1969 as a tribute to Maine’s tribes, is owned by the Skowhegan Area Chamber of Commerce. It is on a 28-foot-long concrete base next to the future site of Variety Drug, which is moving from Water Street. The former University of Maine Cooperative Extension Service building was demolished to make room for the new pharmacy.

The Indian restoration project is expected to begin soon.

Murphy said the walkway being constructed this summer down the middle of the municipal parking lot lines up nicely with the sculpture.

“The Skowhegan Indian sculpture is at the pinnacle of the sight line that’s now created down the pedestrian walkway,” he said. “It’s sort of the northern terminus, the anchor of that corridor.”

The new five-member Board of Selectmen now includes Darla Pickett, who was elected earlier this month for a one-year term, and Donald Skillings, elected this month for a three-year term on the Board of Selectmen. In taking his place on the Board Tuesday night Skillings gave up his position on the Skowhegan Planning Board and the Assessment Review Board.

Selectmen chose Newell Graf, the previous vice chairman, to serve as chairman for the coming year. Betty Austin, the previous chairman, was appointed serve as vice chairman. Graff and Austin also will serve as finance officer and deputy finance officer, respectively.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter: @Doug_Harlow


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