MILBRIDGE — Overlooking the Narragauguas River as it flows into the ocean, the Milbridge Commons is a new green space that opened to the public six weeks ago.
The project was developed as collaboration between the Women’s Health Resource Library and Maine Coast Heritage Trust (MCHT).
“We had a very successful opening on Oct. 20,” said Deirdre Whitehead, a regional land steward with MCHT’s Downeast Field Office. “Over 100 people came out and attended.”
The project has been in the works for several years, and began as an outgrowth of Incredible Edible Milbridge, a community gardening program run by the Women’s Health Resource Library. Begun in 2013 with a series of small, raised garden beds throughout downtown Milbridge, by 2015 Incredible Edible had expanded to a 10,000-square-foot organic garden.
“We were thinking about another garden in town, looking at different spaces. We wanted something very centrally located, but also wanted to expand the physical activity part of it, to have a property big enough for a garden and walking trails,” said library Executive Director Chris Kuhni.
The Women’s Health Resource Library found a lot wedged between the Narragauguas River and Route 1, and contacted MCHT to help fund the purchase. MCHT bought the 4.5-acre property in 2015 for $175,000. In 2016, the Women’s Health Resource Library held its first public meeting to discuss plans for the space.
“One thing that we heard from the community was that they wanted a safe space to walk, a safe space for kids to play,” Whitehead said.
The library continued fundraising for the project, and plans for Milbridge Commons were finalized by 2017.
“In the first phase we have the walking paths, we have the garden beds ready to be planted next spring, we’re raising funds for a playground that will be installed next summer,” said Susan Jordan Bennett, assistant director of the library.
In addition to the playground, there will also be a children’s garden fashioned after the children’s book “Mr. Marden’s Garden,” which was illustrated by Women’s Health Resource Library member Janie Snider. Future additions to the Milbridge Commons will include an amphitheatre and orchard, a terrace and gazebo, a meditation labyrinth and sculptures. All told, the library has raised $335,900 through grants and donations.
“I think people are really excited to have an actual park where you can go and sit, and it’s on the water — it’s really quite a spectacular spot,” Kuhni said.
“In Maine, we have tons of outdoor spaces, but not with easy access,” Bennett added. “One thing we were very careful about was making sure that the walking trails would be wheelchair-accessible.”
Now open to the public, the Milbridge Commons has attracted dog walkers and families alike willing to brave the frosty weather. In the future, the library plans to use the park for children’s educational programs.
“There’s been research that shows the benefits of parks for communities — less crime, businesses have an easier time recruiting people, people who have access to green spaces tend to be healthier,” Kuhni said. “It draws people to the community. So I think it’s going to be good for the whole downtown area.”