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Maine’s Oldest Lighthouse to Introduce Parking Fee

A major change is coming for the 1,000,000 or so annual visitors to Maine's oldest and most photographed lighthouse.

Starting this summer, folks heading to Portland Head Light in Cape Elizabeth's Fort Williams Park will be paying for parking.

For decades, the park, which is owned by the town, has welcomed individual visitors free of charge only charging tour buses a fee.

But now, after multiple attempts in previous years, Cape Elizabeth's town council has unanimously approved a plan to charge $2 an hour for almost everyone parking during the peak tourism season, with some exceptions.

Cape Elizabeth residents will still get to park free. A parking lot near the Children's Garden and another near an off-leash dog park will also be free, and the town will offer $10 day passes and $15 season passes.

But for many visitors making a one-time stop to snap a picture, they will likely be shelling out at least $4 since the town is mandating a two-hour minimum for drivers.

"Part of the reason why we did that is because you find folks staying over an hour but less than two hours," said Town Manager Matthew Sturgis.

He believes the two-hour system will cut down on parking violation tickets that would be costly for tourists and difficult for the town to process.

Visitors to Fort Williams on this cold and rainy week from places like Rhode Island, Virginia, Florida and Minnesota say a small fee is reasonable to keep up the property.

"The town supplying this kind of beauty needs to be reimbursed," said James McHale, who added that a lighthouse in his town, Sanibel Island, Florida, also charges for parking.

Another couple from Pelican Rapids, Minnesota, called the lighthouse "remarkable" and said they, too, wouldn't mind paying.

However, Tristyn Maalouf, making a quick stop on their way to Acadia National Park with a friend, thinks a fee would add to the cost of their road trip and make a short visit more of a hassle.

"We researched free places and free things to see in this area, since we're on our way to Acadia," she said. "I think we would've definitely still stopped. If it was a little more, I don't know if it would have been worth it."

Had their visit happened in 2020, the pair would be paying $4 unless they parked in a free lot, since the Pay and Display parking will be in effect from May 1 to Nov. 1.

This year, the parking system will not be operational until July.

According to Sturgis, the money will be put to use right away.

The cost of maintaining Fort Williams in 2019 will be around $750,000 following a parking lot repaving and walkway improvement project.

Its average annual maintenance bill is about $530,000.

Sturgis says the paid parking is only expected to cover $300,000 of that amount, leaving taxpayers with a significant amount that will still need to be paid.

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