ELLSWORTH, Maine — A silent fundraising campaign for a new signature park in Ellsworth has had some early success.

In recent weeks, the Knowlton Community Park Campaign has raised $140,000 toward its $1.2 million goal for turning the site of a former elementary school on State Street into a signature park complete with amphitheater, fountain, playfield, water park and pavilion/picnic area.

It may be only 11 percent of the total goal, but the number is bringing cheer to those involved, considering the fundraising effort hasn’t even gone public yet.

“We’re in the quiet phase of the campaign, which is when we talk to the most promising high-level donors, and the response has been just wonderful,” said Martha Dudman of Gary Friedman & Associates, the Bar Harbor consulting firm hired by the city to manage the fundraising effort.

The city is also helping in the fundraising effort by setting its planning staff to the task of grant writing. The first fruit from those efforts was announced last week at a campaign fundraiser dinner — the Brunswick-based Elmina B. Sewall Foundation awarded the project a challenge grant that will match the first $100,000 in private donations.

The committee has already raised $40,000 from four top-dollar private donors, who each pledged $10,000.

Michelle Beal, Ellsworth’s city manager, said it’s a remarkable amount considering the fundraising committee, brought together in July, has only been seeking donations since late September.

“This park has been very, very well-received,” in the two years the city has been working on it, she said. “I know it’s a bad economy, and it’s been one for four or five years … but it’s a bit thrilling to know that people are definitely behind this project.”

The city expects to raise about $500,000 from foundation and government sources, in addition to the $220,000 it already has committed to the project. That leaves another half-million dollars needed from individual and business donations.

So the fundraising committee is offering naming rights for key features planned for the park: For $100,000, you could have the park’s central fountain named in your honor. $50,000 will secure naming rights for the children’s water park, the pavilion or the amphitheater. A less-expensive option also is available for individuals and businesses, who can have their names inscribed on granite tiles ($1,000) or bricks ($300).

“The naming rights will be very tasteful,” Dudman said. “I think for people who are excited about this park, to put their family name there so when their kids grow up and have kids, they can see their grandparents’ impact. It’s a nice way to perpetuate the history of Ellsworth.”

The city is home to several small parks: The Harbor Park at the city marina on the Union River offers a field, gazebo and barbecue pits. The S.K. Whiting Park at the corner of High and Main streets features a few benches, flowers and a pedestal clock. But neither park is suited for much active recreation.

Knowlton Community Park will be built at the site of the former Knowlton School, at the corner of State Street and Shore Road. The school was demolished in 2011, and the city and fundraising committee hope to have the $1.2 million in hand by the end of 2013.

Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.

Mario Moretto

Mario Moretto has been a Maine journalist, in print and online publications, since 2009. He joined the Bangor Daily News in 2012, first as a general assignment reporter in his native Hancock County and,...