SKOWHEGAN — The Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund has approved a $25,000 grant request from Main Street Skowhegan for construction of the Skowhegan River Park. MOHF Board voted to fully fund the request in their recent application review meeting in Augusta.
MOHF uses proceeds from the sale of a dedicated instant lottery ticket — currently Ca$h Lines — to support outdoor recreation and natural resource conservation projects across Maine. The river park was the top-scoring project among the pool of applicants in category 2: acquisition and management of public lands, parks, wildlife conservation areas, and public access and outdoor recreation sites and facilities.
“We are thrilled for the support from the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund and the State of Maine,” said Kristina Cannon, Main Street Skowhegan executive director and fundraising chair of the Skowhegan River Park Committee. “Backing from state leaders who are dedicated to improving and expanding Maine’s natural resources is testament to the importance of the river park as a future outdoor recreation asset for not only our community, but also for the state.”
The Skowhegan River Park, formerly known as Run of River, is a community and economic development initiative that will redevelop Skowhegan’s industrial downtown river corridor into an accessible outdoor recreation asset with an expanded trail network and enhanced whitewater. Once completed, the park will feature enhanced whitewater waves — including the Northeast’s only adjustable wave—for paddling and river surfing — as well as an estimated 50 miles of multi-use trails accessible via the commercial district.
The river park will be free and open to the public, and paired with Main Street Skowhegan’s outdoor initiative, the Skowhegan Outdoors AmeriCorps Program, which offers no-cost trainings and outdoor gear for Somerset County residents, it will provide a number of accessible recreation opportunities for citizens in one of Maine’s poorest and least healthy counties.
It is also expected to be a major economic driver. Once constructed, the river park will be a go-to venue for whitewater paddling and surf competitions and events that will draw thousands of people to Maine annually. A 2016 economic impact study estimates $6 million in increased spending statewide in just the first year of operation, with an anticipated increase of $19 million statewide by year 10.
This is the second grant MOHF has awarded to Main Street Skowhegan for the Skowhegan River Park — the first was in 2019 for $24,090 to fund environmental permitting efforts. The initial grant was instrumental in continuing preliminary permitting activities. Since 2019, the Skowhegan River Park Committee — under the leadership of Cannon and Skowhegan Town Manager Christine Almand and in partnership with McLaughlin Whitewater Design Group — has collected and analyzed additional river data, developed a preliminary design report and design drawings, and hired an environmental engineering firm who prepared permit applications and is helping to coordinate the permitting process with state and federal agencies. The Town submitted an application for a Department of Army Permit to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in July 2022 and the Natural Resources Protection Act application to Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection in September 2022. The project team anticipates having environmental permits in-hand early this summer.
The first MOHF grant was also influential in leveraging additional funding for the project. Over the last few years, the municipality and Main Street Skowhegan have raised more than $7 million for the Skowhegan River Park project.
Cannon expects this year’s MOFH grant to again leverage additional funding. “We are fundraising to cover the remaining gap for the first phase of the project, which will include construction of the much-anticipated river surf wave as well as improved river access on the south side of the gorge, including an ADA river access ramp that will enable users with varying physical abilities to access the river. We are grateful to the MOHF board for believing in this project and bringing us another step closer to providing free and accessible river recreation opportunities for residents and visitors alike.”
For more information, please visit SkowheganRiverPark.com or contact Kristina Cannon at Kristina@mainstreetskowhegan.org or 207-614-4078.