CAPE ELIZABETH — The town may create a new position to manage its popular Fort Williams Park.

The park manager would report directly to Town Manager Matthew Sturgis and work in concert with all department heads and with other groups, such as the Fort Williams Park Committee and the Fort Williams Park Foundation.

Town Councilor Jessica Sullivan said the time has come to make and fill this position.

“Fort Williams is (our) jewel in crown. … It is the town’s responsibility,” she said. “I think a dedicated director is critical going forward.”

About 1 million people visit the 90-acre park annually from around the world to see Portland Head Light, Casco Bay and other attractions. It’s often mistaken for a state park, but it is owned and managed solely by the town of Cape Elizabeth.

Sturgis said he hopes the position will be funded and filled before the end of the fiscal year on June 30, 2018. He said he hopes to schedule a meeting with both the Fort Williams Park Committee and the Fort Williams Park Foundation in the next few months to discuss issues further.

“My hope is that we can get ahead of the (park’s) next busy season before spring,” he said.

The Town Council and Fort Williams Park Committee also are discussing an increase in traffic and tourism during the park’s busy months.

Sullivan said the first step is to decide what the predominant vision of the park will be for the future – whether it be a tourist attraction or a town asset.

Councilor Sara Lennon said that she rarely visits Fort Williams because of its popularity.

She said the town needs to figure out whether tourists or residents use the park most.

The council and committee have agreed that a plan should be made for a traffic study.

One proposal calls for the town to consider requiring tour buses to make reservations days in advance before bringing groups to visit the park and the lighthouse.

That would limit the number of buses allowed daily, in turn limiting number of tourists in the park at a time.

Committee member James Walsh said the town needs to “make residents of Cape Elizabeth feel like the park is theirs again.”

The park’s popularity has periodically sparked debates about whether to charge admission to out-of-town visitors, although entry remains free. This summer, the popularity of the park’s new children’s garden created some management challenges when visitors used the pond as a wading pool, among other things.

See this story in The Forecaster.

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