Friday, December 9, 2022

East Windham Conservation Project advances to next phase

By Abby Wilson

With plans to open in 2023, the East Windham Conservation Project promises to be one of the largest recreational conservation lands in the Greater Portland area.

Rachelle Curran Apse, executive director of the Presumpscot 
Regional Land Trust, talks about the new East Windham
Conservation Project while giving a guided tour of the site
in November. The site is expected to open next year.
Access to this property will be off Falmouth Road. The parking lot will have enough space for 60 cars and will feature a turnaround area for school buses.

Currently, a woods road runs through the property which will serve as a base for a paved ADA accessible trail. This trail will accommodate wheelchairs and strollers, opening the property up for visitors of all abilities.

This project has been supported by both the Presumpscot Regional Land Trust and the Town of Windham.

Several ‘sneak peek walk-throughs’ for the public have been coordinated. The last event in November brought more than 70 people to the property. A guided hike was led by the land trust and the town, with narration from Rachelle Curran Apse, PRLT Executive Director.

She spoke about the incredible qualities of the East Windham Conservation Project property including views of Mount Washington and the lack of invasive species which she said was “unique and delightful.” Minimal invasive species treatments will be needed in the future which will save staff the need to budget for this type of stewardship.

Curran Apse also said that the property has received necessary funding not only from grants but also individuals in the community. With 70-plus people showing up for early property visits, it’s clear that there is excitement for this project in the Greater Portland Area.

The project will promote accessibility but will also allow for other types of recreation besides walking. The trails will be open to bikes, horses, dogs and skiing. The property will be open for school groups to study nature and for families to get outside and explore. Curran Apse said that kids will be able to learn how to ride a bike on the easy trail system.

By next fall, there will be five miles of trails on the East Windham Conservation Project property. Trails will be completed in part by the Maine Conservation Corps, and by local trail builder Chris Cyr.

He is a resident of Gorham and has built multi-use trails for snowshoeing, hiking and biking. Cyr says that he plans to create green for easy, and blue for medium difficulty trails, with two miles of the five miles planned to be easy walking paths.

Future trail work will include creating an additional five miles with connections to the Town of Windham’s recreational properties. Another project within the next five years will be building an observation tower at the site to provide 360-degree mountain views.

Once the property is open next year, visitors will be able to view Mount Washington, the southern Presidential range, Pleasant Mountain and the White Mountains. This incredible mountain skyscape can be seen after only a third of a mile walk from the parking area.

The property also features spectacular views of Little Duck Pond. The land trust will protect 1,500 feet of pond frontage on top of the existing 38 acres of wetlands, increasing water quality and wildlife habitat.

Access to the pond will be from a short spur trail off the ADA trail. There will not be a put-in for watercraft as the pond is not ideal for swimming because of its shallowness and muddy bottom.

The previous owner had a small quarry on the site which is planned to become an observation area to study geology.

Most of this property is forested and was harvested within the last few years. Curran Apse said that there may be future plans to manage the forest for wildlife habitat but there is no need to support the project financially by harvesting and selling timber.

The East Windham Conservation Project is extremely significant because it will be easily accessible and within a dozen miles from 200,000 people in the state of Maine.

The property will connect to several other conservation areas such as Lowell Preserve, North Falmouth Community Forest and Blackstrap Hill Preserve. Curran Apse said that wildlife and people are expected to benefit from this project.

The property is 750 acres, making it the same size as Bradbury State Park. That state park currently has about 30 miles of trails, while the East Windham Conservation Project plans to create 10 miles of trails. That means this parcel will have ample space and habitat for wildlife to raise young but also to use as a migration corridor. <

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