The old tannery site on Washington Street in Camden has sat essentially abandoned for years, taken over by the town for non-payment of back taxes. A significant portion of the property was judged toxic to human health, as might be expected, and the most serious dumping area for the solvents that had been used in the tanning process was at least partially remediated through designation as a Brownfield, allowing access to grant money. Even then, taxpayers had to foot a bill for some $800,000, and approved the issuance of bonds to cover the cost. We continue to pay down the debt; it remains a long haul.

When, a little more than a decade ago, we purchased our bungalow on the corner of Rawson and Washington as a summer house (replacing a camp we had summered in for many years), the Tannery structures were still standing. First came a major fire, then another. Thereafter, the fire department used the place to hone their skills on what I remember to be controlled burns, extending huge ladders toward the sky, raining water on the wreck as brave firefighters practiced their craft. Finally, the structures, some barely skeletons, were demolished, loosing many newly homeless raccoons and skunks into the neighborhood. In a final gesture of respect to Millville, a relic of a car was placed in the middle of the broken asphalt Tannery parking lot…and torched in a blazing sendoff. Another training session, this time involving gasoline and oil, or at least their remnants, not to mention flammable plastics and adhesives. By that time, we were living in Camden full-time. Just steps from the Tannery property.

Our nearby home was downwind. I coughed and wheezed for days. As I had done pretty much through the entire Brownfield dig, which saw giant dump trucks haul away load after load of wet, moldy debris and contaminated soil past our front door, all to be replaced by allegedly fresh dirt and gravel, sealed up and contained, we were told, "almost completely." The voters of Camden, it seems, after being offered a kind of Hobson's Choice, had chosen to approve a lesser amount that would not cover a total remediation. But who could argue with the logic of avoiding a complete financial disaster? I couldn't. I voted for the lower amount, as well. But I must say that none of what has transpired over the past several years says much positive about the town's stewardship of the tannery site. Little wonder that the Select Board has consistently failed to find an acceptable buyer for the property, and hasn't even been able, it seems, to give it away.

All this brings to mind the once desolate section of elevated railway tracks on the West Side of Manhattan, abandoned in 1980, that had been allowed to become so dilapidated that then-Mayor Rudolph Guiliani called for its immediate demolition as a danger to public health and welfare. It was an eyesore, no doubt. But after some years of public, and often rancorous, debate, people became energized by this unique site's possibilities. A committee was formed. Talent came together. Skills were marshaled and focused. A vision was shared. (Does any of this sound familiar? Hasn't something similar been happening in Camden in recent months regarding the tannery site?) In New York, the third phase of the High Line at the Rail Yards, a free public park, recently opened to high and enthusiastic praise.

Steve Cuozzo, a New York Post critic almost as curmudgeonly as me, called the High Line "an instant architectural icon that's the envy of cities the world over and the catalyst for billions of collars of development…that reveals itself in a succession of harmoniously contrasting passages like symphonic movements." The old tracks remain for walking, now nicely filled with crushed stone between the old wooden ties and festooned with wildflowers. Concrete trestles were left in place, and some ended abruptly; they have been thoughtfully landscaped, offering, Cuozzo notes, "arresting views…through a shifting kaleidoscope." I've seen photographs of raw 10×10 timbers stacked and staggered to form natural bleachers, filled with young people interacting, or just enjoying the magnificent views.

Writes another critic, Michael Kimmelman of The New York Times, "The park is choreographed to a fare-thee-well, as a varied sequence of paths, vistas, overlooks, plantings — episodes linked by an architecture of reclaimed hardwood benches, rusted nails and concrete planks." In the newest section, he says, "a few benches have morphed into love seats, picnic tables and a seesaw." Less becomes more.

Can such a metamorphosis happen here, with a splendid Megunticook River Park springing from a humble tannery? Over time, I think yes. Just envision it. We already have the River Walk pathway, meandering along a bank of our beautiful babbling brook, complete with natural and man-made overlooks. We have the remains of the concrete foundation for the old tannery, just waiting to be re-imagined in support all sorts of new amenities, including appropriate commercial endeavors that fit with the now-green environment. We have room for small fields for kids' to play in, or raised garden beds for community use. And maybe a larger field for organized games. We have unobstructed and unparalleled views of a nearby mountain, for four glorious seasons. All one would need to do is look up from anywhere in the park to welcome the fog rolling in from the bay, the first snow coating the trees, or the sun's glancing rays at sunrise and sunset. My little dog and I walk the pathway every morning.

In the early 1970s, on perhaps our third visit to the Midcoast, my wife and I decided to drive down to Cushing to find the house where Andrew Wyeth painted Christina's World. We never got there, although we did encounter an 8-foot painted-wood likeness of the girl in the painting. I somehow took a turn into what appeared to be a clearing in a wooded field and was welcomed by an imposing figure of a man standing in a pile of sawdust. His name was, he said, Blackie Langlais, and he was surrounded by a virtual menagerie of fantastic hand-carved animals and people. There were Maine-woods creatures everywhere. All overseen by a giant Trojan horse. Not to mention a somber-faced Richard Nixon. And a motley cast of other intriguing characters. We spent one of the most memorable days in memory talking to this artist who had left New York, our New York, to return to his roots in Maine, his Maine. He left his mark on us. It was that meeting, and the lingering thoughts of what must have attracted him to return to this place, that as much as anything paved the way for us to one day, slowly but surely over time, make Maine our home. Sadly, Blackie died in 1977, the year we finally bought our rustic camp on Hosmer Pond. So we never got a chance to renew our brief friendship. And now I read where that field will soon be turned into a sculpture and art preserve in Blackie's name. It is being funded by the Kohler Foundation.

I am not a sculptor. But I appreciate sculpture's unique power to communicate one artist's vision to a larger public. So much so that I am convinced that a sculpture garden ought to be incorporated into any long-term plan for the Megunticook River Park.

There was an interesting story in the Portland Press Herald (Sept. 15), by the paper's arts writer Bob Keyes, regarding the Viles Aboretum Sculpture Symposium in Augusta. The story contains some ideas that may be useful — think of them as food for thought — as we plan for our park's future. Among the ideas I proposed in my initial letter to the editor six weeks ago when this process was just beginning, was an outdoor, permanent Sculpture Garden. I envisioned a possible competition, national or statewide. (There was, I later learned, a recently concluded Schoodic sculpture event, international in scope, but artists were commissioned at some very considerable expense.) Viles had its own idea: artists would create their works in place and interact with the public; in return, they would have the opportunity to display and sell their pieces to motivated visitors. Finished pieces, I later learned, would be available directly from the artists for prices ranging from $1,000 to $100,000. This approach is not so different from placing one's work in a commercial gallery for sale, except the artist seems more in control. There aren't a lot of outdoor "galleries" for displaying, let alone selling, such work, by the way. From what I read, unsold pieces at the Viles may remain on display, but for how long I do not know. My impression is that ownership remains with the artist, so perhaps a long-term loan of work is possible, with terms set by the artist, I would hope. Camden would seem a perfect venue for such a place, on a much smaller scale, of course.

In my mind's eye, I already see a tranquil tracing of meandering pathways lined with plantings and wildflowers, interspersed with Maine artists' sculptural celebrations of the great outdoors and this small piece of open land in a populated area. Strategically placed could be a large gazebo, protected from the weather, where literature about the displayed art and its purpose, could be offered. Maybe with classes in the round offered for visiting schoolchildren. And guided tours. Not to mention, tucked in some corner, the local-school-produced labyrinth I proposed in my earlier letter. And concrete chess tables. And strategically placed benches and tables for real, face-to-face conversation. And for young people, maybe a basketball court. And organized skateboarding and dirt-biking, since it's already happening here. And a safe place for toddlers to play while parents watch — and get to know each other.

But none of these ideas, and the many other possibilities for this place, can be explored further, in any great depth, unless the voters of Camden go to the polls Nov. 4 and boldly check the box for "Park / Open Space."