Monday, August 31, 2015

Grant funds new trails for Riding to the Top - By Elizabeth Richards

Grant funding and community collaboration recently allowed Riding to The Top Therapeutic Riding Center in Windham to purchase a new tractor and create new riding trails on their 50 acres. 

Sarah Bronson, PT, executive director, said that a $50,000 grant from the Elmina B. Sewall Foundation, along with $5,800 from the Allagash Brewing Company funded the project. The trail development and clearing was a collaborative effort between the farm and the Cumberland County Water and Soil Conservation District (CCWSCD) and their Youth Conservation Corps.

Bronson said the grant application was written to develop environmental trails that include interpretive signs, allowing riders to get out in the woods in a natural environment. The terrain changes of trail riding also means riders must adapt with postural changes, steering and decision making. “It is a very therapeutic environment and very different than being in the arena,” Bronson said.

The purchase of the tractor was essential to the trail development, but will also help with day to day management at the farm, Bronson said. The grant funding also allowed Riding to the Top to partner with CCSWCD. “They were very helpful in identifying areas that would be the least disruptive to the environment,” Bronson said. 

Robyn Saunders, Program Director at CCSWCD said they appreciated the opportunity to work with Riding to the Top. “They were very proactive in recognizing that they needed a little natural resource help and some engineering, which is really our specialty here,” she said. The purpose of the CCSWCD is to educate the public and promote stewardship of natural resources. In this project, she said, they helped to balance the natural resources needs, giving guidance on how to avoid wet areas, for instance, when planning the trails. Putting trails in wet areas would have required permits, which also would have tied up some of the funding, she said.

After the behind the scenes work of laying out trails was complete, the CCSWCD’s Youth Conservation Corps went to work. This group of high school aged individuals along with a team leader did two weeks of hands on work clearing trails at the beginning of August. 

“The great thing about this grant is that it was a real collaborative effort,” said Bronson. By the end of Fall 2015, three trail loops will be complete, with another planned to be completed next year. While the program has had permission to use trails that abut the property, they could not control how those trails were used. “It’s really nice to have some trails of our own,” Bronson said. In the future, they will be looking at some other possible winter uses for the trails. 

Riding to the Top has offering therapeutic riding in the community for 22 years. They serve 90 to100 riders with disabilities per week, ranging in age from 3 to 80 plus. The farm houses 15 horses, and uses approximately 60 volunteers per week. In 2014, the program logged over 10,000 volunteer hours.

There are plenty of opportunities to volunteer at the farm. Bronson said that many people volunteer “to get their horse fix” but end up learning a lot about how to work with people with disabilities. 

Riders can be referred in a variety of ways, and a physician’s signature is required for participation in lessons. There is a waiting list for lessons, but eventually all on the list are served. Bronson said that lessons only account for 30 percent of their operating budget. Every lesson has a built in subsidy, and the farm offers four levels of scholarships as well. 

Funding for the program comes from Annual Fund donations, grant writing and special events. The 7th Annual Reins of Hope Charity Motorcycle Ride will be held on Saturday, August 29th. On October 17th, the farm will host the 8th Annual Triple B: Boots, Band & BBQ. For more information on these events or the program, visit their website at

Babb's Covered Bridge takes another hit - By Walter Lunt

Babb’s Covered Bridge, Windham and Gorham’s venerable historic link over the Presumpscot River just can’t seem to catch a break. It has again sustained damage, though minor, from an August 19 vehicle collision on the Windham side that did not close the span.

The hit occurred around noon when a box delivery truck failed to clear the 10-foot entrance. It appeared as though the corner of the truck’s cargo section struck the top right side of the curved opening. Windham police chief Kevin Schofield said the driver of the truck reported the mishap immediately and that insurance carried by the truck’s owner would cover the damage.

State Department of Transportation inspectors later declared the bridge safe. Schofield said the cause of the accident was human error and that the driver had misjudged the height of the bridge entrance. He said the middle of the entrance is 10 feet in height, but not for the full width of the curved opening. Damages will be worked out between the DOT and the truck owner’s insurance carrier.

Last February the bridge sustained serious damage on the same end when a truck, presumably a plow, struck the left side of the entrance and forced the bridge’s closure for about three weeks. The incident was classified as a hit and run and remains under investigation.

Over the past year the bridge’s troubles have not been limited to vehicular crashes. Last summer vandals sawed a hole through the roof of the wooden structure to access a high point from which to jump into the river. DOT officials made a temporary repair, but swimmers opened it again this summer. In addition, another jump hole was created through sideboards on the inside of the bridge.
The pervasive problem of graffiti covering nearly every square foot of the length of both sides of the inside walls appear to be increasing. In some spots graffiti over graffiti is observed.

Schofield, who assumed the position of police chief just four months ago, said he intends to enhance enforcement at the bridge, particularly during the problem summer months. He envisions beefing up patrols in the area, possibly in a cooperative venture with Gorham. But, he emphasizes, citizen involvement is crucial. 

“If a citizen sees anything inappropriate or suspicious, don’t be afraid to report it.” As an example he cites how a passerby called in suspicious activity at the bridge last May. The resulting police investigation led to a 20-year-old Lovell woman pleading guilty to criminal mischief.

Schofield views the covered bridge as an “asset to the community, an attractive representation of the history of Gorham and Windham. It should not be used as a jungle gym!” He says penalties leveled against convicted vandals should involve restitution, where perpetrators help fix what they break or clean up what they defile.

Plans for general repairs to the aging structure, built in the mid-70s as a replica of the original 19th century bridge, remain unclear. Although the supporting structure is secure, issues involving the roof and granite underpinnings have been the source of discussions between the state, town and local historians. DOT officials have hinted that the low traffic count over the bridge and dwindling transportation funds make it unfeasible to restore the span using historic construction practices. Gary Plummer, spokesman for the Windham Historical Society, said grouting of the granite supports to prevent bridge movement caused by the river current and the freeze/thaw cycle was scheduled for this summer, but has not yet begun. He said other repairs, including the roof are estimated to cost over $50,000. These still have to be worked out and they will work with the local legislative delegation to find a solution.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Fill a truck event for Harvest Hills Animal Shelter a huge success - By Elizabeth Richards

The recent “Fill a Truck” event at MacDonald Motors to benefit Harvest Hills Animal Shelter in Fryeburg met with great success. Taking over the dealership for an afternoon, the shelter was able to fill not one but two trucks with supplies donated by the public. 
MacDonald Motors is a big supporter of the shelter, said Joan McBurnie, executive director/manager of Harvest Hills. “They’ve always been wonderful,” she said. “They’re so kind and generous.” In addition to promotion and advertising for the event, the dealership donated $500 worth of wood pellets, which the shelter uses for cat litter.

According to McBurnie, the people in the area help the shelter a great deal. “Whenever we are in need of something we try to put it on our board out on 302 and the public is pretty awesome,” she said. “People are very generous. We’re very lucky in where we are. They look out for us.”

Harvest Hills Animal Shelter is contracted with 19 towns in Western Maine to accept stray and neglected cats and dogs, which they then adopt out to new homes. When space allows, the shelter also accepts surrendered animals. The shelter does not take animals from out of state, but will help other shelters in Maine that don’t have the capacity to adopt the animals out themselves. 

Harvest Hills Animal Shelter has been in operation for over 20 years. Each year, the shelter adopts out approximately 500 cats and 300 to 400 dogs. To adopt from Harvest Hills, an application is required, where references are checked and efforts are made to be sure the adopter is aware of what it takes to be a responsible pet owner. 
Animals are spayed/neutered before they leave the shelter, shots are up to date, cats have been tested for feline leukemia/FIV and dogs have been tested for heartworm. The shelter requires that all other animals in the home are also up to date on shots. “I think that’s why we get a good reputation with the veterinarians, because we do require those things rather than just saying you have money and you want an animal, you can have one,” said McBurnie. 

McBurnie said that pet ownership can be very expensive, and owning a dog or cat is almost a luxury. To be a responsible pet owner, she said, preventative health care is very important, as is spaying/neutering. Once a month, the shelter runs a low-income spay/neuter clinic, trying to encourage population control.
Harvest Hills Animal Shelter only euthanizes cats that have tested positive for leukemia/FIV, and only after trying to place them in a home that already has a cat with leukemia or FIV by calling local veterinarians and asking for recommendations. Because a positive test means the cat is sick, they cannot adopt them out. And in order to keep them, the shelter would need to build a sanctuary where those cats could be kept separate.

The facilities include “cat condos” rather than cages, big enough for the cats to get plenty of exercise and go inside or out, but “it’s still not a home,” said McBurnie. The shelter just revamped the dog kennels as well. “Our shelter is pretty old, but we’re very proud of it,” she said. The staff encourages people to come in and visit. “We’re that nice down home shelter and I think people feel that way when they come in,” McBurnie said.

If someone is unable to adopt a pet, there are many ways to help the shelter. Volunteers are needed to give the cats love and attention, walk dogs, clean, or work in the thrift store next door that serves as the shelter’s largest fundraiser each year. 

Donations are always accepted as well, both for the animal shelter and the thrift store. There is a comprehensive list of needed items on the organizations website at

New look for some Windham cemeteries - By Walter Lunt

Several cemeteries in Windham are getting much needed upgrades. Dave Dickson, building maintenance supervisor, said grounds personnel are repairing and replacing the post and rail fences at a number of locations in the town.

New split rail “paddle-end round” fences have been installed at the Old Quaker Burial Ground (Pope and Gray Roads), Purington Cemetery (Gray Road), Loveitt-Gambo Cemetery (River Road), and McIntosh Cemetery (Falmouth Road).

Dickson has high praise for the three grounds workers, Rob Buxton, Matt Millett and Dave Vienott, for their labor and workmanship in installing the cedar fences.

Many of Windham’s 26 plus cemeteries are fenced. Dickson said funds for the project were approved by the town council in this year’s capital building budget, and added that more money will be needed for phase two next year when five or six more cemeteries, including Knight Cemetery and Mayberry Cemetery, will need upgrades. Usable parts from the disassembled fences are being used to repair deteriorating ones.

Dickson recalled one resident’s comment about the Old Quaker Burial Ground fence, calling it “eye popping.”

Sunday, August 16, 2015

WMS wlecomes new principal and renovates Field Allen - By Michelle Libby

Amidst construction, summer cleaning and summer camp, new Windham Middle School principal Drew Patin is setting his agenda and getting to know his new school and new community. 
Patin, who just moved to Gorham after working at Sanford Middle School for 13 years, had been holding out for a principal position in the area, so when the principal position at Windham Middle School became available, he jumped. 

“Middle school is my wheelhouse,” Patin said. “Windham was a great choice. It has diversity, working class, down to earth, supportive of kids and the schools.” 

Patin spent some time in Windham at the end of last school year, introducing himself to the students on step-up day and getting to know the staff. 

His philosophy on education is being kid-centered and having fun, using the three “r’s”, relationships, rigor and relevance. 

The relationships he plans to foster are those between teachers and students and also including the parents. Patin hopes to improve on the school and home relationship, so that there is a team to make sure students are in the right place and to help them get there if they have delays. 

“The staff is very student centered and caring,” said Patin. 

The relevant “r” is for relevant, engaging curriculum. Patin sees a strong program that works on problem solving and teamwork and learning to get along with one another. 

Rigor is teaching at the appropriate level and challenging kids by “taking kids where they are and bringing them to the next level. And, have some fun while we’re doing that,” Patin said. 

He was glad that his perspective lined up with what superintendent Sandy Prince had in mind for the role. Patin wants to keep kids engaged before, during and after school and is interested in using the community as a classroom. 

To Patin, that means bring in community members to speak to classes, and to understand the connection between the community, the schools and education. 

Middle school is a rough time for many students, and Patin would like to change the “bust-out-of-here” mentality to the “I had a good time in middle school” statement. 

A topic of conversation for Patin will be to discuss how to make the classroom different and make it fun for the students. “I want every kid to go home and have had a good first day experience and be excited to go back. That’s what we’re looking for.” 

Improvements are being made to the physical school and to the outlook of the school. Patin hopes to have more after school activities to engage students beyond the school day and increase student supports after school. The STEM (Science, technology, engineering and math) program in the school is getting renovations and the applications of those fields go back to Patin’s goals to increase problem solving in the curriculum.   

Windham has great opportunity for the arts from its strong music and chorus programs. “I feel it’s strong and healthy here,” he added. He plans to continue to have programs that encourage the arts. The more, the merrier, he said. 

Patin is interested at getting feedback from students, parents and teachers. “We can all get better from feedback. More efficient,” he said. 

Using new media and a new website, Patin plans to do a video parent letter to encourage parent participation in the school. 

“We build trust with each other, solve problems together and support one another. The kids will see me a lot. It’s important that I’m visible and around.” 

In addition to the new principal, Field-Allen is getting a makeover this summer. The three year project will make the school safer and cleaner for the sixth-grade students who will be housed there. New tile, new carpet, an outdoor facelift with new windows all make Field-Allen more appealing inside and out. In addition to the sixth grade, one applied arts class and the sixth grade special education class will be in Field-Allen. 

“Bill Hansen understands the importance of the building to the community,” Patin said. “I don’t have a doubt we’ll be ready for the first day.” 

On August 26, there will be an ice cream social between 5 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. behind Field-Allen School to help middle schoolers get back into the groove. 

The first day will be September 1. To give feedback or to talk to Patin, email or call 892-1820.