WATERVILLE — Come September, residents will be able to enjoy a new $1.5 million riverwalk at Head of Falls that will include a 150-seat amphitheater; an interactive children’s play area; a gazebo; a lighted, 900-foot-long boardwalk; and landscaping including trees and flower gardens.

RiverWalk Advisory Committee co-chairmen Michael Roy, the city manager, and Lisa Hallee, who have been soliciting significant donations for the project from businesses and individuals, said they learned Friday that a new donor has committed $150,000 and will make an official announcement soon.

The riverwalk was designed by Mitchell & Associates landscape designers, of Portland. The project will go out to bid Tuesday, with bids due back Feb. 28. The City Council is expected to award a contract in March, and ground will be broken on the riverwalk in May, with completion expected in September, Hallee said.

“We’ve been planning it for a long time, and now everything’s just coming into being all at once,” she said. “We’re hitting that mighty momentum, which is awesome.”

Hallee and Roy took part Friday night in a PechaKucha-style presentation at Thomas College, where they focused on the riverwalk project, with Hallee showing 20 slides depicting the history of not only how the riverwalk project came to be but also explaining how the Kennebec River at Head of Falls has been a focal point throughout history.

People migrated to the riverfront from places such as Lebanon and Canada to work in the mills and live at Head of Falls. That history and the log drives that ended on the river in the 1970s will be part of the interactive educational components to be included in the riverwalk project.

In the play area, for instance, children will be able to play around a “log drive” installation and hand-pump activity to learn about the river and how it flows. They also may learn about the history of the area, including the mills and the people, as well as the economy and ecology and biology of the river.

Hallee, a volunteer on the Riverwalk Committee, said she thinks the riverwalk will complement the revitalization work happening downtown and draw more people. “I’m an acting volunteer. I love Waterville and I care about the city,” she said.

In the PechaKucha presentation, Hallee talked about her own family’s history in the city where she grew up. Her grandfather Oscar Hallee moved to Waterville from Quebec in 1900 at age 18 and worked at the Wyandotte Mill at Head of Falls. In 1904, he married Athenaise Loubier, who was one of 22 children and also came to Waterville from Quebec. Oscar Hallee lived to be 102, Lisa Hallee said.

Hallee did not know the detailed history of her grandfather’s time in Waterville until a Colby College student studying transcripts last summer and fall discovered an interview with her grandfather done when he was 93, in which he talked about his life.

“It kind of gave me chills,” Hallee said earlier Friday. “I did not know this.”

Stories of people who are part of the city’s history will be available as part of informational kiosks and panels at the riverwalk.

“This is an opportunity to honor the past and those people and tell their stories,” Hallee said. “There’s an opportunity to tie in and partner with the historical society, the library. We’re already partnering with Waterville Creates! I hadn’t been working on this project, but it hit home to me in a visceral way. It’s my story, too.”

A COMMUNITY-FUNDED PROJECT

The Waterville Rotary Club in 2015 gave the lead gift for the riverwalk project as a way of celebrating its centennial, and it will help celebrate the opening in September. City councilors accepted $50,000 from the Waterville Development Corp. for the project, and that funding was part of $300,000 the city raised locally to match a $300,000 grant from the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Colby College donated $75,000 for the riverwalk; Kennebec Messalonskee Trails gave $15,000; and Inland Hospital, $10,000.

The city several years ago installed water, sewer, electricity and parking at Head of Falls, which is off Front Street. In 2010 the city built a plaza west of the Two Cent Bridge that includes benches, an informational kiosk, a walkway and landscaping. Restrooms will be built as part of the riverwalk project, and the City Council will consider authorizing moving “Ticonic,” a sculpture on The Concourse built by artist Roger Majorowicz, to Head of Falls.

“I think that it’s about the best place I can imagine for it to go, really,” Hallee said. “It’s so appropriate. It was named for the falls.”

Like Hallee, Roy noted that the city owns 14 acres at Head of Falls and officials believe that the riverwalk will be the catalyst for more development on the riverfront, which serves as the hub for Kennebec Messalonskee Trails, whose network through area towns can be accessed from that point.

Roy said the riverwalk project is moving along quickly now, and he is pleased to see development there after 50 years of vacancy on the riverfront. The homes at Head of Falls were torn down during urban renewal, and the Wyandotte mill was burned down by the city in the 1970s.

“The Head of Falls site provides room for development opportunities, and I don’t have any doubt in my mind that this is important in encouraging further future growth to happen,” Roy said.

With downtown revitalization in progress and given investments by Colby College and others, the riverwalk project is something the city can be proud of developing, with the help of community contributions, according to Roy.

“I think it’s a hugely important piece of everything else going on,” he said.

Hallee said the Riverwalk Advisory Committe has worked hard on the project, as have others in the community, to see it come to fruition.

Those wanting to keep track of riverwalk updates may go to the website www.riverwalkathof.com, which was developed by CGI Group as a contribution to the effort, according to Hallee and Roy. People also may view a walk-through video of the riverwalk, designed by Mitchell & Associates and developed by Pepperchrome, of Portland, at http://www.pepperchrome.com/client/Waterville%20River%20Walk/posts/blog/index.html.

The video also is posted on the city’s Facebook page, where, in the first day, it received 500 views, Hallee said.

The riverwalk project, in essence, connects the past with the present, she said.

“This is our time,” she said. “This is our moment. What happened in Waterville many, many years ago is done and gone. This is a new day for Waterville.”

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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