WATERVILLE — The culmination of years of planning and work will come to fruition Saturday as city officials, residents and former U.S. Sen. George J. Mitchell celebrate the new $1.5 million RiverWalk at Head of Falls.

The 2 p.m. event, to which the public is invited, will be held in the amphitheater at the north end of the RiverWalk and will include speeches by Mitchell, City Manager Michael Roy and Lisa Hallee, who with Roy is co-chairman of the RiverWalk Advisory Committee which planned the RiverWalk.

Mitchell, who lives in New York and on Mount Desert Island, is a native of Waterville who lived at Head of Falls when he was young, before moving with his family to a house on nearby Front Street. The first two chapters of his memoir, “The Negotiator,” are about Head of Falls and the Two Cent Bridge on the Kennebec.

A former U.S. District Court judge, U.S. Attorney and senate majority leader, Mitchell was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and nominated for a Nobel Prize after negotiating Northern Ireland’s Good Friday Peace agreement in 1998. He was appointed in 1980 to the U.S. Senate to fill the unexpired term of Edmund S. Muskie when Muskie became secretary of state, and in 1982, Mitchell was elected to a full term and was re-elected in 1988.

In 2009, then-President Barack Obama nominated Mitchell to be special envoy to the Middle East, a position he held until 2011.

Mitchell also served as chairman of the Walt Disney Co., from 2004 to 2007. In 2006, he investigated widespread use of performance enhancing drugs by baseball players.

The gazebo at the RiverWalk is named for the Mitchell family, which donated generously to the riverfront project. Roy said Mitchell will talk about his family history on Front Street. Roy plans to talk about how the riverfront project was developed.

GEORGE MITCHELL

“I’m going to provide the introductory remarks and some history, just to give people an idea of this site and how it remained vacant for about 45 years and also the time it took to finally get to this point where we have such a beautiful public amenity right on the river,” Roy said.

The RiverWalk includes a landscaped, 900-foot boardwalk with railings along the Kennebec River, a children’s play area, benches, picnic tables, artwork including the Ticonic sculpture and signs explaining the city’s history on the river. The RiverWalk was made possible through donations from businesses, organizations, individuals and families. Roy said the $1.5 million fundraising effort is now just $17,000 short of its goal.

Pavers will be sold for $400 each at Saturday’s event and those buying them may choose to have their own names placed on the pavers or those of loved ones, living or deceased. More than 100 pavers are available, he said.

Workers have been putting the finishing touches on the RiverWalk. Eleven benches and five picnic tables were installed there Wednesday morning.

“The donor plaques have all been installed or will be, by the end of the day,” Roy said. “Tomorrow, all the interpretive signs will be installed.”

Roy said he is happy the city was able to make the property become a recognizable part of the city’s history where people can go to learn about the people who lived there, the industries that were on the river, and about the natural environment.

“It’s been 45 years, but I think it’s been worth the wait,” he said.

Hallee said Wednesday that it has been gratifying to see people using and enjoying the RiverWalk. A wedding was held there recently, as well as a baby shower — the sort of gatherings she was hoping people would use the RiverWalk for and see it as their own.

“My heart is just so warmed every time I see a stroller or a family or a couple there,” Hallee said. “It’s just such a feeling of pride that we were able to get this done.”

She and Roy said about 700 people have “liked” the RiverWalk on Facebook and some 100 people have noted that they plan to attend Saturday’s celebration.

“We have to celebrate those moments,” Hallee said. “This is an occasion. This is the capstone of a couple of years of work and a lot of effort. It’s a moment in time.”

Hallee commended all those who donated to the effort.

“We had an outpouring of support from all different sectors of our community — businesses, individuals, lots and lots of families coming forward and buying pavers and benches and honoring loved ones,” she said. “It’s a way for people to tie in loved ones who are no longer with us to a project and a place that they would have cared very much about.”

Hallee, who bought pavers in memory of her parents and grandparents, said she thinks what she loves the most about the RiverWalk is that it is an optimistic, positive development for the community.

“It’s all good,” she said. “Everyone can come. We made it as accessible as possible. It’s just an enormously gratifying feeling to see it become real and to see the community embracing it.”

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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