Concepts and strategies for Camden's riverwalk were discussed during the first of several public forums Monday, April 1, at Camden Rockport Middle School.

More than 100 local residents attended the meeting.

Representatives from T.Y. Lin International Group of Falmouth and its affiliates suggested organizing the project around the creation of an "emerald necklace" of interrelated sites and waterways from Shirttail Point to Camden Harbor.

Terrence J. DeWan & Associates landscape architect Sarah Witte described the idea as a corridor or "series of places."

Witte said the concept was inspired by Boston's Emerald Necklace, a 1,100-acre chain of parks designed by American landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, whose sons Frederick Jr. and John designed Camden's Harbor Park.

Witte was accompanied by T.Y. Lin project manager Darin Bryant, T.Y. Lin engineer Kathy Kern, Dan Bannon of Baker Design Consultants Inc., and Mike Thompson of Penobscot Environmental Consulting, Inc.

The Camden riverwalk redesign was likened to nonprofit urban land trust Portland Trails, and the East Coast Greenway, a developing trail system that Witte said encompasses approximately 3,000 miles of territory from Maine to Florida.

"The watchwords are 'be bold and be patient,'" Witte said.

Witte added no specific plan exists yet for the riverwalk project, which will be pieced together based on what is available.

"[T]here's no other place like this on the east coast, where you have a village over [a] river, and where people can enjoy this viewpoint and this history," Witte said.

Witte said subtle signage could be used to point out ecologically and historically noteworthy sites along the riverwalk.

Camden residents suggested the riverwalk redesign could help resolve parking problems, create more opportunities for activities and events in Camden, provide a safe way to access the river and encourage canoers and boaters to use the waterways.

Concerns included the responsibility for stewardship, potential for cluttered signage and invasion of privacy for preexisting abutters, including sound, lighting, and the nuisance of foot traffic along or through smaller lots.

Meeting attendees were split into smaller breakout groups to identify both potential highlights and problems for the riverwalk project.

Reporting back to the full assembly, many groups said they liked the idea of using the former Apollo Tannery property as the riverwalk centerpiece, due to existing limitations to protect the site's use. Groups suggested the property would be an appropriate site for a public park and information kiosk.

Other "highlights" of the potential riverwalk mentioned by multiple groups included Shirttail Point and Seabright Dam.

Residents listed the riverwalk's materials and surfaces as a major point of interest, as those would determine uses such as wheeled traffic — such as bicycles and skateboards — versus pedestrian purposes.

Director of the Camden Development Office Brian Hodges said the recent naming of Camden Public Library and the amphitheatre as National Historic landmarks presents a "real opportunity" to apply the Olmsted family's design principles throughout the community.

However, Hodges said, the most critical part of the project is community input.

According to Hodges, the forum's turnout "exceeded expectations." The high level of community engagement helped generate valuable input as well as "good energy," and bodes well for future stages of the project, Hodges said.

"[I]n twenty-five years of doing public workshops…I've never been so impressed," Witte said. "I'm so impressed with your sensitivity to each other, and to some of the concerns that you know haven't even been spoken but that are out there."

Witte added she has "no doubt" appropriate solutions can be found based on the community's engagement.

Hodges said interested parties should sign up for the town's newsletter to be kept apprised of the riverwalk and public landing redesign projects. Minutes from workgroup meetings and community forums will be posted on a dedicated page on the town of Camden's website.

The next public forum — which will deal with the public landing redesign — is scheduled for Monday, April 22, in the Celebration Life Family Church at 40 Washington St.

Camden Herald reporter Bane Okholm can be reached at 236-8511 ext. 304 or by email at bokholm@courierpublicationsllc.com.