WATERVILLE — A new covered gathering area with picnic tables will be built on the north end of RiverWalk at Head of Falls.

That was the plan announced Tuesday morning as police and municipal officials met informally with a small group of people in the wake of complaints and criminal incidents there.

Standing in a circle in the covered gazebo at the newly renovated park area, police Chief Joseph Massey addressed three people who often hang out there about the city’s desire to open communication with them and work on solutions for making the park enjoyable for everyone.

Massey also said Officer Linda Smedberg would check in weekly with park regulars, which includes some people who are homeless, to update them about any incidents from the past week and gather any feedback.

“This gazebo is one of the few places where people can come and kind of get out of the weather, and it is mostly monopolized by you folks during the day,” Massey said. “And of course parents are coming down with children and those types of things, and especially when there are several of you in here and you’re all smoking, if I were a parent I wouldn’t want to bring my child in among all that smoke. But we want to make the park available to everyone, including you folks.”

Dylon Courtney, center, plays with Kenny, an 8-month-old Boston terrier as Cindy Talbot holds onto the leash during a walk at RiverWalk Head of Falls in Waterville on Tuesday. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

The gathering occurred after a recent uptick of complaints and police involvement with the park area, which is in its first full summer since a $1.5 million upgrade was completed. The upgrade included the new gazebo, a boardwalk along the Kennebec River and landscaping, picnic tables, benches and sculptures. Police have said numerous people have been arrested in the last two months for various violations at the park, including drinking in public, littering, having outstanding warrants or violating bail conditions. Last Thursday evening, a dispute led to a man being shot in the chest with a pellet gun at the park and another man was charged with reckless conduct.

At Tuesday morning’s gathering, Massey spoke primarily with a man who would identify himself only as Greg, 43, who applauded the effort at communicating with park regulars. Also attending were Smedberg, police Deputy Chief William Bonney, Parks and Recreation Director Matt Skehan and City Manager Mike Roy.

Massey floated the idea of the Parks and Recreation Department constructing a new covered gathering area on the northern end for park regulars that is more on the “outskirts.” That way, the gazebo — which sits near the Two Cent Bridge at the entrance to the new boardwalk — wouldn’t be occupied by regulars all the time and would become more welcoming to visitors. Massey said that police still would enforce laws there, but the new space would better accommodate regulars.

Skehan said he has such a place in mind for a new gathering spot just past the train trestle on the park’s north end, where there is an existing stone base that could be cleaned up by his staff and a covering built over picnic tables. Skehan recently saw someone pitching trash over the boardwalk railing and also admonished others for pulling nearby picnic tables beneath the stone-floored gazebo.

A man who would only identify himself as Greg, front center, speaks with Waterville police Chief Joseph Massey, left, and other city officials during a gathering Tuesday morning in the gazebo at Riverwalk at Head of Falls in Waterville. Morning Sentinel photo by Scott Monroe

“I like that idea too, because it’s realistic — people want shade,” Skehan said. “We can do it this week. It’s just beyond the trestle, on the left hand side. So, we’ll set it up there initially.

“We all love this town,” he continued. “We’re very proud of this RiverWalk, and most of you seem to really appreciate it too.”

For his part, Greg said he couldn’t speak for the dozen or so park regulars he spends time with, but said he liked the proposal for a new covered space and thought it would be welcomed by others. Greg said people typically just hang out playing cards and chatting.

“I would use it — 100%,” Greg said. “There (have) been a few special-needs groups that come here, some elderly people, who thought it was great to have a place to sit down in the shade. A lot of the people don’t have homes or shady spots. I get it; we’re not supposed to drink in public. I don’t drink, but I come down here a lot. It’s a beautiful park.”

Massey said the weekly informal visits by Smedberg would be an opportunity “to let you know during the past week, these things were happening, get your feedback.”

“Very informal,” he said. “She can tell you we’re still getting A & B complaints.”

“Fair enough,” Greg responded. “Communication. A great thing. If I’m around, by all means, I’ll chat with you guys. I wish the other people would be down here.”

Greg at various points called people who didn’t attend Tuesday’s gathering with police “cowards” (because the park regulars had spread the word it would happen), but he conceded those people might have other things going on that prevented them from coming. That includes a man he called “One-eyed Mike,” who, he had heard, faced charges for trespassing or assault.

After the gathering with police, Greg reflected that it was “a good start, 100%.”

“I get both sides of it,” Greg said.

Also under the gazebo, sitting on a camping chair as she smoked, Cindy Davis said the group of regulars have become tight-knit.

“I brought one of the girls home with me,” she said. “We really try to help each other out.”

 

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