DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — For the last half decade, steps have been taken to convert the former Maine Leathers Tannery property along the Piscataquis River into a public recreation area, with much of the work funded by a $600,000 grant for brownfield cleanup from the Environmental Protection Agency. On the evening of July 16 the new approximate 36-acre park — town officials are still looking at possibilities for a formal name for the site — was formally opened with a ribbon-cutting ceremony to thank all those who had a hand in the development of the property off Vaughn Street over the last five years.

With a crowd of about 40 gathered for the ribbon cutting — just down the hill from the parking area and near the launch for canoes and kayaks which includes a row of boulders to indicate the end of the drop off point for vehicles with watercraft and the edge of the property — Dover-Foxcroft Town Manager Jack Clukey began the presentation by saying the opening of the park has brought the clean up of the site to a close. “We don’t have a name and what we would like to do is come up with a name for the park,” he said, mentioning those in attendance could write down such suggestions.

“We really want this site to be part of our recreational facilities downtown,” Clukey said. The park provides access for boating on the Piscataquis River, has a trail running down the middle to near the end for running, walking, cross country skiing and snowshoeing as well as having acres of open green space for other outdoor activities including observing various species of birds active on the river and listening to the rushing water.

Clukey said the project was a partnership of many different participants. He mentioned the U.S. EPA, Maine Department of Environmental Protection, Ransom Consulting, Inc. of Portland, the Dover-Foxcroft Board of Selectmen, the community’s recreation committee, Town Forester Kirby Ellis, a stakeholders group, Dover-Foxcroft Kiwanis, Dover-Foxcroft Historical Society, Piscataquis Regional YMCA and past and current staff of the Piscataquis County Economic Development Council as all having a hand in the development of the park.

Providing a history of the property Clukey said, “In 1829 this site was first developed as a woolen mill and then in 1955 it was a tannery.” He said about two decades later the tannery closed, and the property became a brownfield. Clukey defined a brownfield as an abandoned or underused industrial and commercial facilities available for reuse. The redevelopment of a brownfield often involves a cleanup of hazardous substances, which occurred with the tannery waste at the Piscataquis River site.

In 2008, the resources became available to clean the site up “the best and most feasible way,” Clukey said. He said in 2009 an assessment was conducted and the PCEDC assisted in the application process for the $600,000 grant for cleanup which began in 2010 and continued into 2012.

Substances from the tannery accumulated over the decades in lagoons near the Piscataquis River. These were removed, consolidated and then stored beneath the surface elsewhere on the property. The former lagoons have now been filled in and are covered with a grass surface running alongside the dirt road through the property. Near the end of the road is the pit where the material from the lagoons has been consolidated, out of the 100-year river flood plain. The hazardous substances are sealed in geotextile material containers to prevent seepage into the ground. The top of the material is covered by 14 to 16 inches of soil and then grass at the surface.

Clukey said the cleanup of the property aimed to “preserve as much of the forest and aesthetics as we could.” About two-thirds of the site is being left undisturbed, and Clukey said the goal to keep the site as natural as possible led to the decision to not allow motorized vehicles on the property and “led to the idea not to create access reads if we could avoid it.”

“Last year we substantially completed the cleanup and earlier this year we finished up the plantings we were going to do,” Clukey said about new trees placed on the property, such as by the parking area. “It was certainly a team effort by many different groups to make this possible.”

Nick Hodgkins of the Bureau of Remediation and Waste Management of the Maine DEP took the microphone next and he said he conducted his first readings on the site nearly two decades ago, a very early step in the site cleanup. Amy Jean McKeown of the U.S. EPA said she counted 40 people in attendance, and said, “The town did an amazing job.”

Ransom senior project manager and environmental engineer Peter Sherr thanked the public for all of its input during the entire process. He said the feedback helped “to dovetail the cleanup with the reuse, really in the property manner.”

“We moved 11,000 cubic yards of contaminated tannery waste,” Sherr added.

Clukey said the town’s in-kind contribution, such as work done by the public works crews, put the total cost figure to nearly three-fourths of $1 million when added to the $600,000 grant.