April 22, 2022

East Windham Conservation Project continues to move forward

Windham's Town Council received a briefing about the status
of the East Windham Conservation Project during a meeting 
April 12. The town has partnered with the Presumpscot 
Regional Land Trust for the initiative, which will purchase 
and conserve about 661 acres and build a fire tower similar 
to the one shown. COURTESY PHOTO 
By Ed Pierce

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.

Windham Town Manager Barry Tibbetts told councilors that an application for a $1 million grant from the Lands for Maine Future organization was submitted April 1.

“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.

According to the briefing documents, Windham will also apply for Land and Water Conservation Funding for this project to help pay for infrastructure improvements such as trailhead parking areas, picnic areas, an observation tower, and other recreational amenities that are consistent with Land for Maine’s Future project expectations, Tibbetts said.

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 <

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