WATERVILLE — The $1.5 million RiverWalk at Head of Falls draws area residents and visitors to its landscaped 900-foot boardwalk along the river that features a gazebo, amphitheater, interactive children’s play area, art installations and more.

Developed by the city and the RiverWalk Advisory Committee, the lighted RiverWalk not only provides a beautiful place along the Kennebec River for walking, biking and recreation, it also helps to promote economic growth and encourage further development in the region, say officials of the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce.

Because of the city and committee’s efforts, the chamber April 25 will issue the RiverWalk project the Community Service Project of the Year Award at the chamber’s 56th annual Awards Ceremony, to be held at Enchanted Gables at Medicine Bend Stables in Oakland.

City Manager Michael Roy and Lisa Hallee, who served as co-chairs of the RiverWalk Advisory Committee and raised donations for the project, plan to accept the award at the ceremony.

“It is amazing to see how quickly an initiative can both motivate and mobilize a community as well as literally change a landscape overnight,” Kimberly Lindlof, the chamber’s president and chief executive officer, said of the RiverWalk project. “From the moment that Mike Roy and Lisa Hallee presented the concept to Waterville Rotary Club, its commitment kicked off a groundswell of community engagement and enthusiasm. That continues, as area citizens immediately began using it. Developers cite the Riverwalk as a community amenity that attracts development and future workforce as a quality of life feature.”

Roy said he was surprised the project was chosen for the award and says it is very much appreciated. Head of Falls, off Front Street downtown, was once a thriving community with mills and tenement houses where immigrants lived and worked. The buildings were razed many years ago, and the land along the river lay dormant.

The city several years ago installed water, sewer, electricity and parking at Head of Falls. In 2010, the city built a plaza west of the Two Cent Bridge that includes benches, an informational kiosk, a walkway and landscaping. The RiverWalk opened there last year.

Early on in the process of working to develop the RiverWalk, it became evident that the project was about Waterville’s return to the river and how symbolic that was and will continue to be, according to Roy.

“It brought us back to how it was a site that had such important historical significance to the city, economically, back then, and it was abandoned and neglected for so long,” Roy said. “It wasn’t just about a nice walkway along the river. It was as much about, ‘Let’s do something about a site that’s meant so much to the city.’ No question in my mind — I think the investment will help to spur other investments that will happen there.”

Hallee said she is amazed at how the Waterville community has embraced the RiverWalk.

“It has been such a gratifying experience to be a part of a project that feels so right,” Hallee said. “I got involved with this project as a way to honor my grandparents who came from Quebec to work in the mills. I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we could honor our heritage and at the same time forge a new connection between the community and the Kennebec?’ I think this project has struck a cord with so many in our community because it does both of those things — honors our history and lays the groundwork for our future. I am very proud that the chamber has chosen this project for this great honor.”

Other members of the RiverWalk Advisory Committee were Gary Hammond, Mina Amundsen, Peter Garrett, Shannon Haines, Nate Towne, Kate O’Halloran, Mariah Gleaton, Garvan Donegan, Sydney Mayhew, Winifred Tate and Suzanne Culver, as well as ex-officio, or nonvoting, members Nick Champagne, Matt Skehan and Sarah Bowen.

Designed by Mitchell & Associates of Portland, the RiverWalk was funded with donations. The Waterville Rotary Club in 2015 gave the lead gift of $150,000 for the project as a way of celebrating its centennial. City councilors accepted $50,000 from the Waterville Development Corp., 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. Kennebec Savings Bank donated $150,000, and former U.S. Sen. George J. Mitchell and his family members donated $100,000. Other donations include $75,000 from Colby College; $15,000 from Kennebec Messalonskee Trails; $25,000 from Maine State Credit Union; $10,000 from Inland Hospital; a combined gift of $20,000 from Kennebec Valley Federal Credit Union, Winslow Community Federal Credit Union, KSW Federal Credit Union and New Dimensions Federal Credit Union; and other, smaller donations, including from those who bought pavers that were inscribed and placed on the RiverWalk. All but $4,730 of the $1.5 million has been raised, and more pavers are available to purchase.

The RiverWalk’s features include a 150-seat amphitheater with granite seats situated near the “Ticonic” sculpture that was moved in the spring of 2018 from The Concourse downtown to the riverbank. “Ticonic” was created by Roger Majorowicz. The sculpture “River Stone” by Jesse Salisbury of Fieldstone, LLC, of Steuben, was moved in 2018 from Castonguay Square to the RiverWalk.

The theme of the RiverWalk is “Waterville’s Return to the River.” Interpretive signs along the boardwalk share information about the river, Native Americans and the log drive, which ended in the late 1970s along the Kennebec.

The city owns 14 acres at Head of Falls, and officials anticipate 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.

 

Amy Calder — 861-9247
[email protected]
Twitter: @AmyCalder17


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