Developing Tannery Park

By The Camden Herald Editorial Board | Aug 27, 2020

Town government and volunteers in Camden have proven ability, seen over many decades, in developing, operating and maintaining a park, namely the town-owned Snow Bowl.

For four years, or more, about half the community has supported development of another town-owned park, which a former Select Board named Tannery Park

While some can't imagine a thriving park on a site once occupied by tanneries and woolen mills, others are already using this town-owned land in exactly that way.

Teens and children on bicycles saw some fun in a huge pile of dirt fill set on the tannery property a couple of years ago. Bike riders were seen pedaling up and down that pile of dirt, turning it into an adventure. The pile, stored for future use to cover low levels of contamination in surface soils on the lot, was cordoned off to prevent erosion and possibly due to liability concerns. Still, it's not hard to imagine younger riders having fun riding over appropriately-sized dirt hills on a bicycle skills course, right there.

Towards Rawson Avenue is a paved area, now degraded and lumpy. When there were hoops there, basketball players showed up.

The Camden Farmers Market is thriving in its third season at Tannery Park. Saturday mornings, the old parking lot is busy and the street lined with parked cars. The sleepy, neglected lot comes to life with a similar vibrancy to what Main Street businesses generate on many more days downtown. At the vegetable and fruit and locally-made food product stalls, there are many conversations and these days, masks, as farmers and producers get to know their customers and vice versa.

Now there's talk about moving Starfire Skate Park to Tannery Park, which brings new energy to the table.

The skate park has been located behind the Teen Center building for about 15 years.

Recently a group of young adults and teenagers who grew up on the half pipe discovered a plan was in motion to relocate the structure to South Thomaston and fought to stop that. They rallied support from community members and petitioned the town to keep the skate park in Camden for the next generation of skateboarders. These 15-year-old to to 20-something skateboarders are a highly skilled but not always appreciated group of young people. They also support the park existing in a more visible location.

Though Camden has one successful recreation area, officials have been bogged down in discussions about whether the tannery property should be a park, a commercial development with other uses, or a place for affordable housing.

There is no doubt Camden has an abundance of beautiful parks offering open space and natural recreation, including walking, swimming, canoeing and kayaking, boating and fishing.

For some, this abundance of natural parks translates into the opinion that the town has all the park area it can afford to maintain and oversee.

However, the Snow Bowl is amonumental success story. While it has had financial and weather-related ups and downs, its longevity over the decades is based on a high level of volunteerism, generosity of wealthy residents and unwavering support of the majority of community members.

The town-owned ski area is widely considered to be an important source of outdoor recreation for area youth and an economic driver for downtown business and lodging establishments during the winter season.

The town already knows how to manage a recreation area requiring high levels of knowledge, expertise and specialized skills. The ski area has been known to attract people to move to the area, who then volunteer to keep the ski-area going. For a town that already knows how to handle liability for a ski and toboggan area, a playground, bike track and skate park is a relatively small task.

Not everyone supports the Snow Bowl and not everyone will support a multi-use recreation park on Washington Street. But as the saying goes, build it and they will come.

And so will the community spirit, volunteerism, private funding, vitality and park users of all ages, that will contribute to keeping Camden the better place that it already is.

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