My pepere, Oscar Hallee, came to Waterville from Quebec in 1900 when he was 18 years old. Like others, he came in search of a brighter future. He got a job at the Wyandotte Mill at Head of Falls and in 1904 he married my memere, Athenaise Loubier. Together they raised nine children, the youngest of whom was my father, Richard, born in 1929.

In the early 1900s, Head of Falls was a vibrant place, filled with working-class families living within walking distance of the mills — people drawn here by the dream of prosperity and a better future for their children. The story of Head of Falls is the story of Waterville. Indeed, it is the story of America.

Over time, Head of Falls changed. By the 1960s, the aging mill and the substandard housing stock that surrounded it looked out of place in the then-thriving downtown Waterville. “Urban renewal” was the cry of the day and, in the name of progress, the Head of Falls neighborhood was demolished and the families who lived there were relocated.

After the demolition, the land along the river lay barren and empty. Waterville turned its back on the river, which then was smelly and polluted. This is the Head of Falls I remember as a child. It was a forgotten place awaiting the “renewal” that never came. For 45 years, Head of Falls has been overlooked and forgotten.

Now, as downtown Waterville experiences the most dramatic renaissance in more than 100 years, we have the opportunity to bring Head of Falls back to life with a spectacular new park, RiverWalk at Head of Falls. With it, we will ensure public access to our river and at the same time honor those who came before us.

Located one block away from busy Main Street, RiverWalk at Head of Falls will anchor our downtown and welcome people of all ages with a fully accessible 2,200-foot walking path, a gazebo with shaded seating, a large children’s play area, a 150-seat amphitheater, benches, picnic tables and plenty of open space.

Interactive displays along the path will tell the stories of the people who once lived and worked here as well as the story of the river itself — its science and its role in economic development.

RiverWalk at Head of Falls will become the location of choice where we will gather as a community for outdoor activities, festivals and concerts, and it will become the head of trails for the entire Kennebec-Messalonskee trail system that extends throughout our region.

RiverWalk will inspire future development at Head of Falls in ways that enhance the economic vitality of our city while preserving public access to our waterfront. That development is already underway, specifically because of the promise of this park.

RiverWalk will help attract the young families Waterville needs by providing inviting green space close to shops and restaurants with lots of activities and plenty of free parking.

RiverWalk at Head of Falls will cost $1.5 million to build, and we hope to break ground in May. Led by an extraordinary $150,000 gift from the Rotary Club of Waterville in celebration of its 100th anniversary, the RiverWalk Committee has raised nearly $900,000. We are getting closer to our goal, but time is short and we need your help.

On April 3, the Waterville City Council will decide whether to proceed with signing a construction contract to build RiverWalk.

There are two ways you can help make the RiverWalk a reality. If you are a Waterville resident, please speak to your city councilor or to Mayor Nick Isgro to let them know you want to see the city support this important project. Tell them you want the city to do the right thing for our quality of life, our economic future, and to complete the renewal long ago promised but never delivered.

Second, please consider making a donation to the RiverWalk campaign. Donations of all sizes are welcome. For more information, please visit our website, www.riverwalkathof.com.

In 50 years, our generation will be measured by how we left this place. Let’s be remembered as the generation that brought Waterville back to the river.

Lisa A. Hallee is co-chairwoman of the RiverWalk at Head of Falls Advisory Committee.


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