Friday, December 17, 2021

Windham advances one of largest conservation projects in town history

The Town of Windham and the Presumpscot Regional Land 
Trust will protect nearly 600 acres of forested land around
Little Duck Pond for open space and outdoor recreation in
East Windham. FILE PHOTO 
By Ed Pierce

Score one for conservation and the protection of natural landscape and wildlife habitats in the Town of Windham.

On Tuesday evening, members of the Windham Town Council authorized the town manager to apply for U.S. Forest Service Community Forest Program, Land For Maine’s Future Program, and Land and Water Conservation Fund grants, and any other grants for the purchase and development of the proposed Little Duck Pond Community Forest, and to take any other necessary action related to creating a Little Duck Pond Community Forest steering committee.

In October, the council announced a partnership with the Presumpscot Regional Land Trust to preserve the unique and undeveloped character of the property surrounding Little Duck Pond in east Windham off Falmouth Road and to protect the high-quality habitat of the forest and associated ecosystems, while also providing a variety of opportunities for well-managed multi-use outdoor recreation, trail access and scenic enjoyment for the general public for generations to come.

The property is within one of the largest undeveloped forested blocks of land in the region. It includes Atherton Hill which at nearly 600 feet is the largest hill in Windham and includes 1,545 feet of frontage along Little Duck Pond and 1,500 feet of stream frontage that provides wild brook trout habitat.

In addition, nearly 25 percent of the land has been identified by state scientists as a significant deer wintering area, one of just a few large deer wintering areas remaining in the region.

When Windham’s Open Space Plan was adopted in February, the council specifically identified making permanent protection of current areas used as open space and parks a priority and establishing management plans for town-owned properties and developing partnerships on open space protection.

During the Tuesday meeting, Rachelle Curran Apse, the Presumpscot Regional Land Trust executive director, praised the council for reaffirming its commitment to the project.

“We’re so glad to be collaborating with the Town of Windham on this exceptional Little Duck Pond Community Forest Project,” Apse said. “The partnership allows the town to be the land owner and the land trust to hold a conservation easement on the land ensuring the project will forever be conserved for wildlife habitat and for multi-use outdoor recreation. 

The council also authorized Tibbetts to seek agreements for the eventual purchase of several parcels of lands surrounding Little Duck Pond area which will be added to the conservation project. This was a necessary step before grant application paperwork is submitted in January.

Council member Brett Jones was appointed by the council to serve on the newly created Little Duck Pond Steering Committee, which will make recommendations and give input to the council about the project.

Jones said he hopes to see the committee include as many differing viewpoints and interests regarding the potential recreational use of the property as possible. Some uses could include miles of new trails for walkers, bikers, snowmobilers, and ATVs, while continuing to provide hunting access, which Jones said he supports.

The Little Duck Pond property abuts other properties which together provide a block of nearly 750 acres of contiguously conserved land in the towns of Windham and Falmouth and provides an unfragmented forest habitat corridor of exceptional size.

Once completed, the protected area will become part of a nearly 2,000-acre contiguously conserved land area connecting with Windham’s Lowell Preserve, the North Falmouth Community Forest, and the Blackstrap Hill Preserve. Through its 40 acres of protected wetlands the project also will provide high-quality habitat for species such as spring peepers, spotted salamanders, and leopard frogs.

In moving the project forward, councilors said that the goal of this new Little Duck Pond project is to mirror Windham’s highly popular Lowell Preserve in ensuring the land that is conserved will never be subdivided or developed and multi-use trails will always be available for the community.

About $3 million in funding needs to be raised within the next year to pay for land acquisition costs, trail building, recreational amenities, and long-term stewardship of the land for wildlife and people, said Windham Town Councilor David Nadeau estimated in October.

“This significant project is possible because the town is committed to investing in this project locally while also raising state, federal, and private funds in collaboration with the Land Trust,” Nadeau said. “Like Lowell Preserve, the town looks forward to collaborating with the Land Trust to conserve the land and provide shared management of trails so they are welcoming for all.” <

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