Brooker Smith pushes Luca Frazell on a scooter in the gymnasium at the Parks and Recreation building in Bangor during the Kid’s Cave after school program on Wednesday. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Bangor Parks and Recreation has big plans for 2023 that include improvements to public spaces, and a feasibility study to determine where to relocate its headquarters and what to do with Sawyer Arena ice rink.

The improvements will include extending the Bangor Waterfront walking trail and upgrades to the Kenduskeag Stream Trail and Cascade Park.

It’s part of a larger, decades-in-the-making effort by the department to modernize many of its extensive assets in the city, and to reposition its resources to improve the areas people use most. The changes are laid out in a master plan — the first in the department’s 100-year history — published in 2021.

Kids enter the Parks and Recreation building in Bangor for the Kid’s Cave after school program on Wednesday. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

The first step is a feasibility study that will help the department figure out how to improve its headquarters, which are housed in a nearly 100-year-old building at 647 Main St. The building originally was used as the city armory.

The Bangor City Council approved a measure earlier this week that will pay $129,792 to Berry Dunn to do the study, which also will look into whether to expand facilities near Sawyer Arena.

The department moved from Bass Park to the old armory in 1992, and has outgrown the space. In addition to offices, it has highly popular before- and after-school “kids cave” programs throughout the school year, youth sports and activities for seniors in its gymnasium.

City of Bangor Parks and Recreation building. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

“We use every inch of this space, and functionally, it’s just not big enough for our kids cave program,” said Tracy Willette, director of parks and rec. “We know that there are changes that need to be made. We just need to figure out what that might be — whether we stay here, we move elsewhere, we build something new, we find a new space. There are a lot of possibilities.”

One of those possibilities could be adding onto Sawyer Arena, or elsewhere in Hayford Park. Sawyer ice rink is in use for less than half of the year. It could be transformed into a year-round facility, though Willette said that’s just one of many options on the table.

In the coming months, Bangor residents will see a few major upgrades to several park facilities, including the extension of the Bangor Waterfront walking trail by approximately 1,000 feet, extending it past Hollywood Casino and Geaghan’s Pub and Brewery and ending at Interstate 395.

Tracy Willette, director, City of Bangor Department of Parks and Recreation. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

That area was for many years the site of an encampment of homeless people, until city officials cleared out the people living there in late 2021. The council approved the project last year, which will use funds from the Maine Department of Transportation and the city.

The parks and rec department also plans to upgrade the Kenduskeag Stream Trail by adding more lighting in the areas closer to the downtown area and installing an activated light-up crosswalk signal at the bridge that carries Valley Avenue over the Kenduskeag Stream, near the Lover’s Leap area of the trail.

And while it may not be visible to the general public, the department also will apply for Cascade Park to be added to the National Register of Historic Places, and to upgrade its iconic fountain and waterfall.

The park, built in 1934 as part of the New Deal-era Works Progress Administration, is a popular site for picnics, weddings and photography, in addition to a short trail that connects to the longer system at adjacent Saxl Park, which is part of the Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center campus.

Counselor Charlotte Morrissette, 19, checks in children as they arrive for the Kid’s Cave after school program through Parks and Recreation in Bangor on Wednesday. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

The department’s master plan, published in 2021, identified a number of improvements the department could make in its overall operations — one of which was major upgrades to its offices. The plan provided a valuable perspective for both parks and rec staff and the city at large.

“We reference it every day. It’s really been invaluable for us as a tool to figure out what the future will look like, and how we can grow in smart ways,” Willette said.

Bangor has more than 1,000 acres of park lands available for public use, including Bangor Municipal Golf Course and the Bangor City Forest. That’s more than double the acreage of similarly sized communities across the country.

The plan indicates that Bangor’s parks system has about 40 percent fewer full- and part-time employees compared to other cities of a similar size across the country. Bangor’s yearly parks budget is approximately $525,000, about 13 percent lower than similarly sized cities, though it generates a considerable amount of revenue through its programming fees.

Nolan Coon, volunteer at the Kid’s Cave after school program at Bangor Parks and Recreation, sits with children while they have snacks on Wednesday. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

The master plan offered up many suggestions for what the department could do over the next 10 years, including long-term projects such as turning Brown Woods on Ohio Street into a trail system that is fully accessible to people regardless of their disabilities, large-scale improvements to Bangor Community Gardens on Essex Street and a renovation of the former Police Athletic League Center at Essex Woods.

Overall, the master plan shows that Bangor is a unique community among other small cities across the country in terms of the sheer size of its park lands and facilities — some of which date back to the city’s founding in the 1830s.

“We’re very fortunate that someone had the foresight to build so many park spaces directly into the makeup of the community,” Willette said. “It’s completely woven into the fabric of Bangor.”

Avatar photo

Emily Burnham

Emily Burnham is a Maine native and proud Bangorian, covering business, the arts, restaurants and the culture and history of the Bangor region.