The pedestrian bridge over the Kennebec River near downtown Skowhegan is shown in July 2021. As part of the long-planned Skowhegan River Park, a boulder island would be installed below the bridge near the center of the river to help enhance the whitewater for the benefit of kayakers, surfers and others. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel file

SKOWHEGAN — A Skowhegan whitewater park 20 years in the making is one step closer to becoming reality.

The town will open bids for the park’s final design, pending expected approval from the town’s selectmen next week. That means that construction could begin this summer.

Even so, a complicated permitting process involving several agencies continues to inch along. And although organizers have completed most of the fundraising needed to start construction, they say that they still need more to complete the multi-million-dollar project.

The updates come as a town committee of project organizers, municipal officials and community members met Tuesday to move the project forward.

Current plans for the park, formerly known as Run of River, include improved river access, whitewater paddling features and other recreation infrastructure along the Kennebec River gorge in Skowhegan. An adjustable wave will be the first of its kind in the Northeast, according to organizers.

The River Park committee agreed on Tuesday to request $600,000 from the town to hire a contractor for the park’s final design.


All of those funds have already been allocated to the project. Two thirds are from the town’s Sappi tax increment financing fund, while the other third is from a Somerset County grant, according to Kristina Cannon, president and CEO of Main Street Skowhegan, the nonprofit spearheading the park project.

Selectmen will likely approve the use of the funds, according to Todd Smith, the board’s chairman.

“Whereas this money has already been allocated for this specific purpose, and this is just the next phase, I wouldn’t anticipate any issues at all,” Smith told the park committee Tuesday. “The process is not new.”

With design bids possibly in hand by the end of February, the most ambitious timeline — which assumes there are no issues with the bid process — puts the beginning of the first phase of the park’s construction this summer.

The first phase will include one artificial, adjustable wave feature, a river access path and in-river debris removal, according to plans. Later phases of construction will add more whitewater features, a tubing channel, and a trail system, among other infrastructure.

The budget for phase one is currently set at $5.71 million, Cannon said.


So far, $6.1 million has been set aside for that phase of construction, largely from a federal grant awarded by the U.S. Economic Development Administration in 2022, according to Cannon. About $1 million of that total is coming from the town’s Sappi TIF fund.

Fundraising, however, is still ongoing for phase one construction, since organizers anticipate construction costs to go up, Cannon said.

And rising costs may be only one hurdle of many.

Permits from federal, state and local agencies remain in various stages, Cannon told the committee Tuesday. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently sent a list of questions that need to be addressed before a federal permit can be issued, but some of those questions cannot be answered until a contractor is hired, Cannon said.

Organizers also remain in talks with Brookfield Renewable, the company that operates the dam just upstream of the proposed park, regarding permission to do work on the section of the park closest to the dam, according to Cannon. That process also involves the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the agency that licenses hydroelectric dams across the country.

Some committee members also raised concerns about contractor availability for this summer, given the accelerated timeline of the bidding process.


“These contractors, usually, they’re dealing three years out,” said Jeff Hewett, Skowhegan’s director of economic and community development.

Others on the committee responded that, for a project so unique, contractors who can do this kind of work likely already have it on their radar.

Given the River Park’s key role in efforts to develop Skowhegan into a regional outdoor destination, the committee made it clear that it is going to do what it can to keep things moving along.

“Skowhegan has this opportunity to become such a great outdoor recreation destination,” Cannon said Tuesday. “And it will also become a place that people want to live and a place that will provide health and wellness benefits to our community remembers. The River Park is a major part of that.”

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