Women’s Health Resource Library and Maine Coast Heritage Trust staff members visit the site of the future Milbridge Commons, which the organizations are partnering to create. PHOTO COURTESY OF MILBRIDGE COMMONS

Milbridge to build new park promoting health

MILBRIDGE — Off Route 1, on the edge of the Narraguagus River, a new park offering organic vegetable gardens, trails and a playground will begin construction in the spring — and that’s the first phase of the plan.

The Women’s Health Resource Library (WHRL) in Milbridge and the Maine Coast Heritage Trust, based in Topsham, partnered on the project to help conserve land in Milbridge and increase access to natural, public spaces, according to the project’s website.

A map shows the concept of the Milbridge Commons, complete with an amphitheater, a gazebo and a labyrinth. The first phase — community gardens and walking trails — will be built in early 2018.

A main focus of the project, called Milbridge Commons, is getting visitors outside, according to Maine Coast Heritage Trust’s regional land steward in Milbridge, Deirdre Whitehead. She serves as a connection between the two organizations on the project.

“The hopes are that we will be building a community park that will engage people in outdoor recreation from children to elderly adults,” Whitehead said.

The community gardens on the site, she said, would allow visitors to learn how to grow crops and use different vegetables in their cooking, creating a “holistic” approach to park design.

“From our perspective as a land conservation organization,” said Maine Coast Heritage Trust Director of Communications Rich Knox, “what we’re trying to do more and more in communities up and down the coast is look for partnerships that really have a direct benefit for the community.”

Knox said Maine Coast Heritage Trust purchased the land that will be used for the park in mid- to late 2015, after the WHRL staff approached the organization in 2014 about working together. Part of the motivation for working on the park, Knox said, was to enhance Maine Coast Heritage Trust’s relationship with the Milbridge community.

“We have a presence in the community in Milbridge, and we are always looking for ways to deepen that presence,” he said.

The park will be located on a 4.6-acre lot, and will create “green space that is going to transform the community in terms of health and wellness,” according to a press release.

For WHRL staff, the project idea came from the success of their Incredible Edible program, a series of public vegetable gardens. In a statement in the press release, WHRL Executive Director Chris Kuhni said the park builds on that garden program to promote health in Milbridge.

“Nutritious fresh food, a safe place to walk and closeness to nature; these elements provide the foundation of good health,” Kuhni said in the press release. “These are the fundamental needs we all share. Milbridge Commons will be filling those needs. We are transforming this land so the land can transform our community. It is all about community — a healthy, vibrant, thriving community.”

Both organizations have been applying for grants for 18 months, and have raised $285,000. Their goal for the first phase is to raise $369,000 for infrastructure, a walking trail, the gardens and other elements. Later additions will include a gazebo and amphitheater on the site, and a site plan includes a labyrinth for people to walk through.

“The folks from WHRL feel that we in Washington County feel we deserve a wonderful, beautiful place,” Whitehead said.

Jack Dodson
Jack Dodson has worked for The Ellsworth American since mid-2017, and covers eastern Hancock and western Washington counties. He grew up in the Mid-coast region before living in New York City for five years, where he freelanced in documentary filmmaking and journalism. He is particularly interested in criminal justice, environment and immigration reporting.