|Once protected, the 650-acre conservation project will
enhance protections for surface waters and wetlands, including
Highland Lake seen above. FILE PHOTO
The proposed East Windham Conservation project could become the largest
conservation and outdoor recreation project in Windham and one of the largest
throughout the region.
In an effort to preserve Windham’s rural character and function, the Town of
Windham is proposing to acquire 650 plus acres of land in East Windham, off
Falmouth Road, and grant a conservation easement to the Presumpscot
Regional Land Trust. The partnership will allow for the
Town of Windham to be the owner, and the Land Trust to hold a conservation
easement on the land ensuring this project will forever be conserved for
wildlife habitat and multi-use outdoor recreation.
On Wednesday, Feb. 16, the Windham Parks and Recreation Department held an informative Community Meeting to provide an overview of the project. The planning process for the project, an implementation timeline, community benefits and a 15-minute question and answer period were included in the meeting agenda.
According to Amanda Lessard, Planning Director for the Town of Windham, in 2017
the town of Windham adopted a comprehensive plan that included four
recommendations that were distilled into four big things. One of those four
things was to keep rural Windham rural. The plan specifically recommended that
the town invest in rural Windham by making purchases outright to preserve its
rural character and to preserve its rural function.
The plan also recommended the development of an
Open Space Plan. The town adopted that Open Space Plan in February of 2021. The
East Windham Conservation Plan is an outcome of that planning effort.
“The 650 plus-acre property is identified in the Open Space Plan as a rural conservation area that the town should preserve for its large undeveloped habitat block and to keep it from being developed,” said Lessard. “This property, if not conserved, could otherwise be developed with up to 325 homes. Windham is one of the top 10 growing towns in Maine.”
The Town of Windham’s population has nearly tripled in size in the last 50 years. Conservation is one of the only ways to ensure there will be lands that remain rural and undeveloped for the public to access.
According to Rachelle Curran Apse, executive director of the Presumpscot Regional Land Trust, only 4 percent of the Town of Windham is forever conserved and over double that is conserved in Greater Portland and in the state of Maine where about 20 percent of land is conserved.
Once protected, the 650-acre conservation project will enhance protections for
surface waters and wetlands, especially in the watersheds most at risk of new
development and for streams and rivers most at risk: Little Duck Pond, Highland
Lake, and Forest Lake.
The 650 acres is the largest area of undeveloped forested land in Windham and one of the largest in the Greater Portland area. It provides a vital forest corridor for a wide diversity of wildlife species and will become part of a nearly 2,000-acre contiguously conserved land area connecting with Lowell Preserve, North Falmouth Community Forest, and Blackstrap Hill Preserve, providing an unfragmented forest habitat corridor of exceptional size.
According to Linda Brooks, Parks and Recreation Director for the Town of Windham, the creation of the East Windham Conservation project will expand the towns growing tourist economy by creating a new outdoor destination with miles of accessible forested trails and a spectacular 360-degree view from which will be the only observation tower from on top of one of the highest points in the Greater Portland area.
“Four season recreational opportunities will help local business realize benefits from tourists throughout the year,” said Brooks. “Acquisition of this property will protect resources for hiking fishing, hunting, snowmobiling, skiing, mountain biking, picnicking, and other recreational activities. In addition to all of the recreational benefits for all ages, there are educational benefits to be considered as well. We do have members from RSU 14 who will serve on the steering committee to help us with educational development. The East Windham Conservation Project offers a unique opportunity for K to 12 education in a large and diverse outdoor classroom setting.”
The projected cost of the East Windham conservation project is $2.5 to $3.5 million which would need to be raised through state and federal grants, bonds up to $1.5 million using impact fees without affecting the mill rate, and private funding sources.
To access more information about the East Windham Conservation Project and the full slide presentation from the community meeting, visit the Town of Windham website at https://www.windhammaine.us/ <