PITTSTON — The only indication of a road accessing about 60 acres of town-owned land is a “No Trespassing” sign posted on a pole on Old Cedar Grove Road.

But if town officials are successful in their quest, one day it could be the entrance to a multi-use public area with shore-front access to the Kennebec River both from the mainland and from an island that sits just a stone’s throw from that shoreline.

Jim Lothridge, who heads up the committee that’s working on how to develop the property, toured the property Saturday, and the possibilities started to take shape.

“If you look around, you’ll see some great picnicking areas in here,” Lothridge said, pausing on a flat stretch of road bordered by scrub, and maple, oak and white pine trees. “And if this were a decent road again, it’d make a great hiking trail. It’s just a peaceful, quiet area.”

The property, which Pittston officials acquired for non-payment of taxes, is generally known as the Williams pit. Evidence of the excavations that took place there are still evident, the scrap metal that’s been rusting in place for years, including an enormous tank that’s apparently lying on its side.

Some old ruts and newer tracks from all-terrain vehicles mark the road that winds west and downhill to the banks of the Kennebec River.

“The local lore is that they were excavating the pit over here,” Lothridge said, pointing generally north, “and as they were getting closer and closer to the Cross Hill Cemetery. And the driver of the loader that was excavating the gravel told the owner he was done digging because he didn’t want bodies falling out of the cemetery.”

The tree-covered island, which is known as The Sands Island, Sands Island or Bodge Sands Island, came to the town’s ownership in two pieces. Town officials had already acquired one-third of the 22-acre island when the two owners of the remaining two-thirds surrendered it to the town.

Leaves frame a log boom between mainland and Bodge Sands Island on Saturday in Pittston. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

When the tide is low, a short causeway links the island to the mainland, but it doesn’t cross the entire gap, but it’s covered during most of the tide cycle.

The town’s early notable history is strongly linked to the Kennebec River. Maj. Reuben Colburn, who had built his home, a grist mill, a boat yard and brick yard in Pittston, played a key role during the Revolutionary War in Col. Benedict Arnold’s 1775 expedition up the Kennebec River to seize Quebec from the British Army. Colburn provided the boats and supplies for 1,100 soldiers.

But now, while the Pittston’s entire western boundary is the Kennebec River, the town has had no public access to the river.

Lothridge said one of the possibilities being considered is putting in a dock in a flat area near the southwest corner of the property where the land slopes down to the river. Other activities could include hunting, an archery range, camping, boating, hiking.

Selectwoman Jane Hubert said before the property is opened to the public, she would like to find out more about insurance and access.

“I don’t know how it would be controlled for safety for camping purposes and health reasons,” she said.

The island is already used for camping, but town officials are not sure who’s using it. In July, Ellsworth Lawrence, the town’s harbormaster, told the Board of Selectmen at a meeting that the situation on the island was “out of control.”

Jim Lothridge, chairman of the Kennebec River Walk committee, walks Saturday around a puddle on the narrow dirt road that leads from Old Cedar Grove Road to Bodge Sands Island in Pittston. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

After trespassing complaints from both the Pittston Board of Selectmen and Lawrence two Maine State Police troopers and a sergeant crossed the river in early August from Gardiner to investigate.

Hubert rode along, although she remained on the boat. From her vantage point, she could see evidence of camping.

“There was makeshift tables, and a sneaker hanging on a tree,” Hubert said.

The troopers found no one on the island that day and posted “No Trespassing” signs that the the town provided, but she has no idea if they are still up.

Lothridge said there’s also evidence of fire pits and a portable toilet on the island.

Jean Ambrose, chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen, said recently that town officials want everyone to be able to use the island and feel comfortable doing it, not just a few people.

“We’re making a transition and putting permanent signs up there,” Ambrose said. “It’ll probably say ‘By Permission Only.’ They can come to the Town Office and say they are going to be down there using it.”

The final decisions, which will be made by town residents, are months away and there’s a mountain of work to accomplish before then.

Lothridge is looking for community members to work on what he’s calling the Kennebec River Walk Committee to develop the scope of work for the property to pave the way for seeking grants to pay for it. In defining that scope, the committee will also have to reckon with the limitations of work that’s allowed along shorelines, which could involve both state and federal agencies.

The committee meets at 6 p.m., on the first Monday of the month in the town office on Whitefield Road.

“We have five or six people who show up fairly regularly,” he said. “I’d like to get the up to about 15.”

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