Organizers of the Skowhegan River Park, formerly known as Run of River, are set to receive $2 million in federal funding that they say will allow for greater public access along the banks of the Kennebec River in downtown Skowhegan. The river, with the walking bridge stretching across it and downtown in the background, is shown in July. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel file

SKOWHEGAN — A whitewater park project planned for the Kennebec River in downtown Skowhegan is scheduled to receive $2 million in federal support, a financial boost that will allow officials to move forward with greater river access for the public.

The Skowhegan River Park, formerly known as Run of River, is set to receive the money under a federal Transportation and Housing Appropriations bill to support construction projects. It was one of 105 projects across Maine earmarked for funding. The package passed 68-31 in the Senate last week and was signed into law Tuesday by President Joe Biden.

U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, D-2nd District, also had a request approved under the bill for $1 million for the town of Madison to construct and operate an anaerobic digester that would turn organic feed stock into biogas.

“We couldn’t be more thrilled or thankful for the support of Skowhegan’s River Park,” said Kristina Cannon, executive director of Main Street Skowhegan. “River parks are proven tools for community development, as evidenced by dozens of others around the country.”

The plan, she said, is to use the money to construct riverside seating, paved walkways and access trails, a riverfront promenade and other improvements.

Organizers of the park are preparing to submit final permit applications to state and federal regulatory agencies, a step that has taken longer than anticipated because renderings and designs needed to be updated to include new aspects of the project.


“We don’t want to wait, we want to continue with the momentum,” Cannon said. “I think having this great infusion of federal support is going to give us the continued momentum and really construct some infrastructure that will make people understand that this project is really happening.”

The project will eventually include a stairway to the river from downtown, allowing people to reach the park from Water Street. Audience seating is planned so that events can be hosted at the river gorge, and the intention is to create adjustable waves in the river.

Officials are also planning to construct a riverfront promenade along the edge of the gorge and a slalom course for whitewater kayaking events. Some 50 miles of trails are being planned in the greater Skowhegan area, including ones for mountain biking.

Three major water-recreation features ultimately are planned: a kayak wave, located just downriver from the walking bridge downtown; a surf wave, located at the middle rapid behind the Municipal Building; and a kayak wave at the end of the gorge at the mouth of the Big Eddy.

The park will be open to all paddlers, surfers and paddleboarders as well as those who want to float down the Kennebec on a tube. Access to the river will be free to all, though fees may be charged for participation in events and competitions.

Cannon said organizers will discuss how the project can tie into an effort announced earlier this year by the Maine Department of Transportation called the Village Partnership Initiative.


The statewide initiative was announced in January as a way to improve “lower-speed areas where people meet, walk, shop and do business.”

“It makes sense for us to think about riverfront development as it relates to the River Park and the Village Partnership Initiative,” Cannon said. “They are both intertwined and (the initiative) is all about making downtowns more welcoming. This infusion of federal support is going to give us the ability to make moves on that faster than we would have otherwise.”

As the project continues to move forward, Cannon anticipates scheduling more public forums for people to weigh in.

“It’s a chance for us to reengage people around this effort and to make people excited about the riverfront and making it accessible for all,” Cannon said. “It’s all coming together.”

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