Windham town councilors received an update at the April 12
council meeting regarding the status of the East Windham Conservation Project
and significant progress being made by the partnership of the town and the
Presumpscot Regional Land Trust in moving the initiative forward.
The project will dramatically expand and diversify recreational opportunities in Windham with the purchase and conservation of 661 acres of land, amounting to the largest block of unfragmented forest in Windham and one of the largest in the Greater Portland area. Currently less than 4 percent of Windham is conserved with recreational access.
The land for the project is about 99 percent forested and has
1,545 feet of undeveloped water frontage on Little Duck Pond, with 38 acres of
wetlands and numerous headwater streams. Acquisition of this land will directly
help protect the water quality for Little Duck Pond, Highland Lake, Forest Lake
and the Pleasant River. The land also contains the 150-acre Deer Wintering
Area, a traditional area for hunting by permission, and the 580-foot Atherton
Hill, the tallest hill in Windham.
When completed, the project will directly abut more than 1,000
acres of other conserved land in Windham and Falmouth, including Lowell
Preserve, North Falmouth Community Forest, and Blackstrap Hill Preserve, providing
20 miles of interconnected trails and five trailheads for public access.
“They came out and walked the land with Planning Director
Amanda Lessard and Rachelle Curran Apse of the Presumpscot Regional Land
Trust,” Tibbetts said. “We also had a representative of the Land for
Conservation Program come out and walk the land. We have not applied for that
grant yet but will be filing for that later this year.”
Tibbetts said that Windham will acquire all 14 parcels that
compose the East Windham Conservation Project, and the town has designated two
staff, Lessard, and Windham Parks and Recreation Director Linda Brooks, for the
planning and implementation of the project.
Windham’s Open Space Plan identifies developing and
maintaining open space partnerships and relationships as key mechanisms to grow
conservation efforts in the town. When the council formally adopted the Open Space
Plan, Windham reached out to the Presumpscot Regional Land Trust in 2021 to be
an open space partner by holding a conservation easement and sharing responsibility
for the trail management on the adjacent 308-acre Lowell Preserve.
Councilors were briefed that once Windham owns the land for
the conservation project, it will donate a conservation easement on the full
project area to the Land Trust. The easement formalizes the partnership between
Windham and the Land Trust to steward and maintain the conserved land.
In addition to holding the conservation easement, the Land Trust will have a shared management agreement for the project land with Windham. While the Town will take the lead on larger recreational infrastructure and amenities, the Land Trust will take the lead on building and maintaining approximately 10 miles of nonmotorized recreation trails that will connect to the 20 miles that exist through the conservation corridor.
Windham and the Land Trust are also partnering on the
community involvement and fundraising for this project.
Tibbetts said Windham will put a bond request before voters at
the Annual Town Meeting on June 18 in the amount of $1.8 million with the bond
to be paid for with open space impact fees, so the bond will not impact the tax
rate. He said that the Town Finance Committee and town councilors have unanimously
expressed support for the bond amount, and that the bond will provide the Land
for Maine’s Future matching funds needed to purchase the land and other
expected project costs.
The project is expected to have a final appraisal and secured
matching funds by the end of 2022.
To see a map of the proposed conservation area go to link: www.windhammaine.us/766/East-Windham-Conservation-Project <