Parking Fee Proposed for Maine's Oldest Lighthouse

Portland Head Light is said to be the world’s most photographed lighthouse. But soon, pictures taken at Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, may come at a price.

The town council is considering a proposal to charge for parking at the popular lighthouse. It would be a two hour minimum, starting at $2 an hour. The longer you stay, the lower the hourly rate becomes.

Town Manager Matthew Sturgis says the parking fees would cover rising maintenance costs that have historically been paid for by Cape Elizabeth taxpayers.

"This reflects a change in the volume of the use that's taken place at the fort," said Sturgis. He said in the last decade, visitation to the park has gone up around 40 percent, bringing in around 260,000 visitors last season. Maintenance can cost between $250,000 and $400,000 a year. Around 60 percent of visitors to the park are from out of state, and Sturgis said it may be time for a broader base of people to contribute to those costs.

"The concept that the fort is free is a misnomer," he said. "The citizens of Cape Elizabeth have been supporting it for a long time."

The proposal in front of the council would reserve more than 100 parking spots on the outer edge of the park for free. Around 270 parking spots would be "pay and display" spots. The proposal received mixed reaction among park visitors Tuesday.

"I don't think you should have to pay to park. Lighthouses should be free," said Debbie Summers-Enix, a tourist from Maryland. "If we had to pay at each lighthouse, that would get expensive and I think it would keep tourism down."

Other visitors think it's a small fee to pay for a priceless view.

"Five more dollars, I wouldn't care," said Harrison Dell, who came to Maine from Arkansas.

"I think [the lighthouse] is a big attraction to come up to the northeast," said Bobby Tran, who was in Maine for his honeymoon. "I think trying to preserve this for future generations is worthwhile."

Sturgis said councilors can now decide if they should send the issue to an ordinance committee, or put the question on the ballot for Cape Elizabeth voters to decide. Two previous ballot questions on this issue have failed, but Sturgis thinks people are coming around to the idea.

"We are trying to find a creative way ... to let things be self-supporting," he said. "I think the conversation has changed. It's a question of cost, and it's a question of use."

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