It was John Muir, a co-founder of the Sierra Club and a champion for wilderness preservation, who said “in every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” Such will be the case when the public is invited to join representatives of the Presumpscot Regional Land Trust and the Town of Windham on a preview walk through the East Windham Conservation Project on Sunday, Nov. 20.
|Residents will be able to take a tour of the new East Windham
Conservation Project from noon to 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 20.
The project will conserve 750 acres including Little Duck
Pond and is expected to open by fall 2023.
In all, about 10 miles of new multi-use trails will be built at the site next year by the Presumpscot Regional Land Trust, but this walk will offer spectacular views of the White Mountains and water views of Little Duck Pond on the property.
Once opened a year from now, the East Windham Conservation Project will become part of the largest wildlife habitat and trail access corridor in the Greater Portland area, providing 2,000 acres of conserved land and a 30-mile trail network connecting Lowell Preserve, North Falmouth Community Forest, and Blackstrap Hill Preserve.
The planned new trails will eventually connect to 20 miles of existing trails, making it a destination for walking, hiking, mountain biking, trail running, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and bird and wildlife watching.
The project is conserving 38 acres of wetlands and 661 forested acres, more than 1,500 feet of Little Duck Pond frontage, and miles of pristine headwater streams that lead to Forest Lake, Highland Lake, and onto the Presumpscot River, the 150-acre Deer Wintering Area for hunting, and the 580-foot Atherton Hill, the tallest hill in Windham.
A project budget of $3.7 million has been raised including a $1 million grant from the Land for Maine’s Future initiative, voters from Windham approving a $1.8 million conservation bond using open space impact fees during the Annual Town Meeting in June and $400,000 raised privately from public donations this past summer. A Land and Water Conservation Fund federal grant for $500,000 to pay for the infrastructure improvements at the site is pending.
A town-wide survey conducted over a six-month period in 2021 and 2022 concluded that conserving the land to remain undeveloped for wildlife habitat, water quality protection and rural character was the top benefit to be derived from the project. The second-highest ranked community benefit was to provide multiple-use outdoor recreation and create access for the whole community.
According to Rachelle Curran Apse, the executive director of the Presumpscot Regional Land Trust, the organization is now working with the Town of Windham to complete grant requirements of the Land for Maine’s Future to conserve the land.
She said once the land is officially conserved, the land trust will begin building out the trailhead and 10 miles of trails at the site while planning for a grand opening next fall.
Windham Town Manager Barry Tibbetts said the town is grateful to the Lands for Maine’s Future organization for helping to fund this project.
“The timing of this land being available to be conserved for the future with recreational usage combined with the state’s renewed commitment to funding with the Land for Maine’s Future program has been ideal,” Tibbetts said. “The LMF Board’s award to grant the town nearly $1 million for the acquisition of this property is an opportunity we can’t afford to pass up.”
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.
During a Windham Town Council meeting earlier this year, Linda Brooks, Windham Parks and Recreation Director, said that 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 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 educational activities in a large and diverse outdoor classroom setting.”
The preview walk is open to the public and is free, but space is limited, and registration is required to participate. An RSVP link to the event listing is contained on the land trust website at https://www.prlt.org/events <