A section of Mill Island Park in Fairfield is shown Wednesday. Town officials want to improve recreational opportunities at the park. Mill Island was once home to several mills and factories, and their foundations can still be seen. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

FAIRFIELD — Town officials are looking to transform Mill Island, once a vibrant industrial hub, into a popular recreational site, and perhaps have it serve as the first step in a broader look at how the town uses its waterfront.

There have been efforts over the years to update a park at the north end of Mill Island, and officials are looking to resume that initiative.

The town created a survey for residents last month, and plans to pursue further community involvement and grant funding for projects in the coming months, Town Manager Michelle Flewelling said.

The island is on the Kennebec River, just off Main Street. It is connected to either side of the river by Bridge Street and has several homes at the southern end. The park, called Mill Island Park, covers 6 acres at the northern end. The area was once home to mills and factories.

The town’s Economic and Community Development Advisory Committee sent out surveys last month to residents to find out what they want done with the space. The committee received 61 responses and is working through the results now, said Stephanie Thibodeau, chairwoman of the committee and a member of the Town Council.

Garvan Donegan, director of innovation, planning and economic development at the Central Maine Growth Council, said in a recent statement to the news media that Fairfield “has a rich opportunity to make significant improvements to one of its greatest public spaces, open up waterfront enjoyment and public access to the community, while marrying the project to downtown redevelopment initiatives.”


The committee hopes to continue to get the community involved through an open house in February, when survey results are to be reviewed and residents can provide further input.

“Once we have community involvement, then I’m hoping it’s going to grow — like when you throw a rock into the pond and you see the water ripple — that’s what I envision,” Thibodeau said.

In the early 1800s, the island was home to a variety of operations, including the United Boxboard and Paper Co., and several buildings that housed workers. There were also many footbridges connecting the river to downtown.

In the 1980s, the town bought the land and an advisory group turned it into a park.

Buildings were torn down and basements were filled in, although in several sections, the foundations are still visible. Grass, trees and shrubs were planted to create a tranquil setting tucked away from Main Street.

There were further efforts to do work to the park in the 1990s and early 2000s, including adding playground equipment and signs with historical information. When the 2008 recession hit, however, the project was set aside as the town redirected funding to other priorities.


In recent years, town officials have begun the related work of creating a waterfront development plan, and the Town Council agreed Mill Island Park would be an ideal place to start.

“The committee got the direction from the Town Council that if we were going to do a waterfront plan — because the length of Fairfield’s waterfront is substantial on the Kennebec River — that what they should do was concentrate on just Mill Island Park and get the waterfront plan for Mill Island Park done and then see how we could expand that into the full piece,” Flewelling said.

With the committee in the early stages of this process, there are many possibilities for what can be done. Officials are considering updates to the historical signs, new playground equipment, more parking, access to the river and perhaps a footbridge connecting the island to downtown.

For some smaller projects, the town could use money that has been set aside in a reserve account for parks, Flewelling said, but the committee hopes to get the bulk of the funding from grants. The need for grant funding is part of what prompted the survey last month, so when the town goes to apply for grants, officials can show there is support for the project.

The goal is to improve the park to meet community needs and preserve local history, then use the momentum to bring that support to the rest of Fairfield’s waterfront.

“I would like to see a place that the community can be proud of and that encourages a healthy way of living,” Thibodeau said. “I think that this is an initiative for the town to take hold of. It’s showing respect to our past and making our future possible. It’s just one small part of our town, but it’s something that we can be very proud of.”

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