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

FAIRFIELD — A play area for dogs, a footbridge to downtown and a longer loop trail were some of the ideas for a “gem” of a park that were discussed this week at a public hearing.

Town officials held the gathering Tuesday for residents to share what improvement they would like to see for Mill Island Park as part of an effort to generate more interest in the open space that juts into the Kennebec River.

The discussion was part of a second phase of getting input from residents after the town’s Economic & Community Development Advisory Committee sent out surveys months ago.

The committee provided several maps of the park Tuesday, including breakdowns into different zones. People could leave notes and discuss what they liked about different areas of the park and what they want to see changed.

“The end result is we’re going to put together a planning document, a blueprint or a business plan, if you will, for Mill Island Park,” said Garvan Donegan, director of innovation, planning and economic development for the Central Maine Growth Council, which is based in Waterville.

In addition to the dog park and other amenities, suggestions included more seating for a bandstand or stage for performances.


Stephanie Thibodeau, a town councilor and chairwoman of the committee, said she was pleased with the turnout Tuesday, although she would like to get further input from young people. She said she hopes the park can be a place for the community far into the future.

“It’s just such a little gem that’s tucked away,” Thibodeau said, “and people need to come out and visit.”

The committee plans to use grant funding for any changes at the park, and resident input is a key part of many grant opportunities, she said.

Michael Riviere, 28, lives near the park and said he hopes to see more natural plants and vegetation included in the space on Mill Island.

Mill Island has a long history in the area. 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 island 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 in the 1990s and early 2000s, including adding playground equipment and signs with historical information. The Great Recession, which lasted from December 2007 to June 2009, caused town officials to set the project aside and redirect funding to other needs.

The committee hopes to revitalize the park and then use the process as a blueprint for enhancements to other parts of Fairfield’s riverfront.

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