A quarter of a mile beyond the sewage treatment plant is East End Beach. In August, Portlanders feeling lonely for the winter can bring themselves to the brink of hypothermia by dunking themselves into the ocean here. The rest of the year (Labor Day through Memorial Day, officially) it is an off-leash playground for dogs.
There aren't many cities of any size that have a bathing beach within walking distance of downtown, since industrial activities and street runoff typically generate too much water pollution. Before the city finished building the Portland Sewage Treatment Plant twenty-five years ago, swimming at the East End Beach would have been a very risky activity. The beach is also located next to a nineteenth-century industrial site. The photo above shows the sinking landfill where a shipyard used to be.
Today, though, the beach is relatively clean, and safe for swimming. You can learn how clean the water is at this web page, which has a database of water pollution records for the East End Beach and others. Still, as I wrote last week, Portland's sewers occasionally overflow in heavy rainstorms, and when that happens, the beach is either put under an advisory or closed altogether. The beach hasn't been closed in the past four years, but there were a smattering of advisories during the wet summer of 2004.
Hikers venturing off of the paved path in any season should watch their step. This is a popular place for pets, and all too often, dog sewage ends up on the ground or in the water, instead of in garbage cans per city regulations. Now that industries have generally cleaned up their acts and human sewage gets treated, dog shit washing directly into Casco Bay is one of the more significant - and preventable - sources of remaining water pollution.
Next stop on the trail: a spectacular view of the Wyman Power Station.
Trailhead: Portland Sewage Treatment Plant