Western Promenade
Portland's Western Promenade provides visitors with views to the White Mountains of New Hampshire. (Portland Phoenix/Colin Ellis)
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It may be best known for some of Portland’s most iconic and historic homes, but the West End is also home to the Western Promenade, a park with views all the way to the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement.

Matt Hyde, president of the board of Friends of Western Promenade, said his organization and the city are in the process of fulfilling a master development plan for the park.

That plan, adopted by the City Council in 2021, calls for several projects including safety improvements to a dangerous switchback trail. Hyde said the trail has become a year-round path for pedestrians, especially those working at nearby Maine Medical Center.

The work also includes removal of invasive plant species, such as Norway maple trees, which restored viewsheds to align with the park’s original design.

A map of Portland’s Western Promenade depicting the various changes and upgrades planned as part of a master development plan. (Courtesy Friends of Western Promenade)

“The original park was very much open,” Hyde said. “Knowing the importance of trees, the opening of the viewsheds has been done on a very limited basis.”

Other work has included creating a flower bed at the head of Bowdoin Street, replacement of benches throughout the park, and new signage. Hyde also said design work is underway to replace a gazebo that was removed in the 1980s.

“In the relatively short amount of time, I feel that we’ve made really good progress,” he said. “The city has been a willing partner, and Maine Med stepped up and donated a large amount to green spaces.”

Hyde said the Friends was formed in 2018 to advocate for the Western Promenade, which despite being on the National Register of Historic Places, was the only such park in the city without a master development plan.

“It is the document that informs respective organizations, like the city or the Friends group, on how a park should be restored or rehabilitated,” he said. “Because it’s on the National Register of Historic Places, it’s more significant, because anything you do has to be done in the context of it being registered as a historic place.”

An antique postcard depicts Maine General Hospital (now Maine Medical Center) and the Western Promenade gazebo as seen in 1891. (Courtesy Friends of Western Promenade)

He said a master development plan is not intended to be “prescriptive,” but rather a guide for “responsible parties” as they restore the park. He said much of the work is done with the city, and while general improvements have been made over time, having a master development plan provides the guidelines to support rehabilitation.

The goal of the rehabilitation is both to preserve the historic park and also to make sure it is a community asset. For example, the Friends group began a summer concert series on July 13, and Hyde said more than 300 people attended the first concert.

“It’s a community park, and everything we try to do is for the community benefit,” he said. “It was a stepchild park.”

Hyde said the work is ongoing and “won’t happen overnight.” With limited funds and resources, he said the work has to be done creatively.

“Like all things it ultimately takes a village,” he said. “And the village will continue to try to improve the Western Promenade.”

North Deering park aerial
An aerial map of the area where Portland hopes to create a public park in North Deering. Pedestrian access would be off of Washington Avenue and Deering Run Drive; vehicle access would be on Ballpark Drive. (Courtesy city of Portland/TPL)

Federal grant helps propel Portland park acquisition in North Deering

Besides renovating the Western Promenade, Portland plans to acquire 24-acre Haverty Park between Washinton Avenue and Auburn Street in North Deering, not far from Riverside Golf Course.

The city has received a $400,000 grant from the U.S, Department of Interior Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership to help purchase the property in a partnership with the nonprofit Trust for Public Land.

The land is now privately owned by Haverty Park LLC and contains an existing athletic field with parking, ponds, wetlands, and an informal network of neighborhood trails, according to the city. Because the land is not currently public, access can be revoked at any time.

According to the Trust for Public Land, 94 percent of Portland residents live within a 10-minute walk of a park, and this addition will get the city closer to 100 percent. According to the Department of the Interior, the park will also address a community need since 39 percent of the people who live within a half mile are considered low-income. 

Acquisition of the property is expected to be completed by next spring or summer, with development and improvements planned for 2024-2026.

Portland is one of 26 cities around the country that received ORLP grants, and the total federal allocation was $61.1 million. The city currently has 117 parks.

— Colin Ellis