Work will begin next week on upgrading a portion of the trail system at Pondicherry Park to improve accessibility for a wide range of users and to enhance access for future maintenance needs in the Park.
Pondicherry Park, established in 2010, has become a treasured green space for residents and visitors to the Lake Region. Accessible by public transportation, and within close proximity to Bridgton’s downtown business district, 16,000 annual visitors enjoy access to the Park from the Dunning Bridge entrance alone. The current trail system in the Park is noted for its views of winding streams and pine forests, but it is not currently accessible to those who utilize mobility devices such as wheelchairs, or families with strollers.
It has long been the desire of the Town of Bridgton, Loon Echo Land Trust, and the greater public to improve the conditions of the Park’s main trail and replace existing non-ADA compliant infrastructure in order to make this community resource accessible to more people. This goal is articulated in the Park’s management plan, approved by the Bridgton Select Board in 2010 after a community planning process.
Thanks to over $100,000 raised by Loon Echo Land Trust through grants and private donations, and with the support of the Town of Bridgton, the project will upgrade 0.7 miles of trail from the Bob Dunning Memorial Bridge to the Willett Road trailhead. When complete, the trail will comply with universal access design standards that will allow for a “rollable surface” (either by wheelchair or stroller), and remove big gaps, steps, and other potential barriers. Phase Two of the project, scheduled for 2023 or 2024(pending fundraising), includes plans to add a 60 foot access ramp up to the Ham Bridge, which connects the Park to Stevens Brook Elementary School.
“This project opens up the potential for more investment in trail connections in Town. It is part of a larger effort to make Bridgton a more pedestrian, bike, wheelchair, and stroller-friendly community,” said Loon Echo Land Trust Executive Director Matt Markot.
Investment in the ‘All Access Trail’ is part of a larger effort led by LELT (with support from dedicated volunteers and the Town of Bridgton) to upgrade and replace older infrastructure in the Park to accommodate increased visitation and enhance accessibility for all residents and visitors. The trail system has seen eleven years of heavy use and in many areas, the tread surface and bridging infrastructure has begun to deteriorate, creating safety and environmental hazards. The investment in the Park’s trail infrastructure aims to meet the increasing demands of use and make ongoing maintenance more sustainable.
After a public bid process, Warren Excavation of Bridgton has been selected to manage the construction. Work on the new trail and parking area will begin next week and will be finished later this summer. Access to the main trail along the Stevens and Willet Brooks will be limited during construction, but the rest of the trails in the park will remain open.
LELT is still seeking donations to reach the funding goal of $127,000 for the project. The project is made possible with funding from the State of Maine’s Recreational Trail Program and generous donations from community members, many of which were given in memory of JoAnne Diller who was instrumental in the development of Pondicherry Park. Donations for the trail project are still being accepted and can be made online at link.lelt.org/pondicherry, or by mailing a check made out to ‘Loon Echo Land Trust’ at 8 Depot St, Suite 4, Bridgton, ME 04009 (memo: Pondicherry Park).