Skowhegan whitewater recreation park plan attracts issues as city seeks property easements

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The Run of River project provides recreational opportunities on the Kennebec River near the pedestrian bridge that will be shown with downtown Skowhegan as the backdrop on Thursday. The project includes a staircase along the slope above the river on the right. Rich Abrahamson / Morning Watchman

SKOWHEGAN – Concerns about a multimillion-dollar whitewater park, which is expected to give the region an economic boost, were addressed last week after nearby property owners learned about Run of River and the property easements requested for the park.

Kristina Cannon, Managing Director of Main Street Skowhegan and Fundraising / Project Manager of the Run of River Committee, addressed the city council on Tuesday and gave a presentation to residents on Wednesday.

Some participants said they were concerned about easements, as well as the crowd and noise level. A total of 29 property owners were asked to sign easements.

Cannon said the easements will allow adjustments in the river beds, including the construction of river wave features and the removal of the remains of a railroad bridge that collapsed during the 1987 flood.

The agreements include a “Hold Harmless” clause which affirms that property owners will not be held responsible for anything that happens on the river. Although the landowners’ land ends in the middle of Kennebec, the water is open to the public with or without an easement.

A local resident said at the meeting on Wednesday that the locals “are not against recreation, we just don’t like this big amusement park thing,” pointed out possible traffic jams, and added, “We’re concerned about the crowds and” hooligans “, because “people who do white water (activities) are adrenaline junkies” and “most of them are just interested in their adrenaline rush”.

Cannon made it clear that Run of River will not be an amusement park but a whitewater recreation area. When it’s done, Run of River will have the only adjustable wave in Kennebec and the Northeast. The left side of the river is used as a fish passage.

The Run of River project provides recreational opportunities on the Kennebec River near the pedestrian bridge in downtown Skowhegan, which will be seen as a backdrop on Thursday. The project foresees a staircase that runs on the right side of the slope above the river. Rich Abrahamson / Morning Watchman

Although some local residents felt uncomfortable about the project, Amy Noble and her husband Stephen are excited about the opportunities the park will offer.

“We’ve just seen so many small towns in Maine built along a river and looking the other way that they don’t use the river at all,” said Amy Noble on Wednesday. “We are very excited that you are placing this along the river and it can attract people on both sides of all of the downtown businesses.”

The project will eventually include access stairs from downtown that will allow visitors to access the park from Water Street; Audience seating for events to take place in the river gorge; and an adjustable shaft in the Kennebec.

A total of three major water recreation facilities are planned: a kayak wave located downstream from the downtown pedestrian bridge; a surf wave found on the middle rapids behind the community building; and a kayak wave at the end of the gorge at the mouth of the Big Eddy.

The white water waves in the river are great for paddling, surfing and stand-up paddleboarding. The aim is to improve access to both river banks. A promenade will be laid out along the gorge; a slalom course will be created for whitewater events; 80 km of year-round hiking trails are currently planned in the greater Skowhegan area, including a single trail for mountain bikes.

The park will be free and open to everyone, but a fee may be charged to participate in events and competitions.

The goal, says Cannon, is to put Skowhegan on the map as an “outdoor recreational Mecca with a vibrant local gastronomy and craft beer scene”.

Run of River revenues are expected to bring the state more than $ 5.9 million annually and Somerset County $ 4.6 million annually. If everything goes according to plan, the park should create at least 34 jobs.

The total budget for Phase 1 of the project, which includes the approval, design and construction of two shaft elements and river access improvements, is $ 8.2 million. To date, more than $ 1.7 million has been raised through grants, private donors, and foundations.

Several entrepreneurs and property owners have also invested in the project and in initiatives to revitalize the city center.

Bigelow Brewing Company purchased the old Solon Manufacturing building on 7 Island Avenue in 2019 to convert the four-story building into a manufacturing facility, living quarters, restaurants, and more.

Maine Grains, which is housed in the former Somerset County Jail at 42 Court Street, announced plans last fall to expand the property adjacent to the current area that was once the location of the Kennebec Valley Inn.

Jason Cooke, owner of 151 Water Street, has been working on converting the building into retail and restaurant space as well as some AirBnB units. The Thrifty Chic boutique opened on the first floor in April and Unwined is slated to open on August 5th.

Cannon reported that local residents are also converting the space at 181 Water Street into a community center with a pool for kayak roll clinics.

Other recreational investments tie in with Run of River, including Skowhegan Outdoors, a Main Street Skowhegan project, and Lake George Regional Park, which is currently upgrading its facilities.

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