Friday, October 6, 2023

Grand Opening nearing for East Windham Conservation Area

By Ed Pierce

Generations of Mainers will someday look back on efforts made to protect the East Windham Conservation Area as key to preserving recreational lands and ecosystems to be enjoyed in the future. According to officials from the Presumpscot Regional Land Trust and the Town of Windham, an area roughly the size of Bradbury Mountain State Park has now been conserved for open space and outdoor recreation and is the largest wildlife habitat filled with sparkling clean water and recreational trail corridor in Greater Portland.

Little Duck Pond in Windham is part of the 700 acres being
preserved and protected in the new East Windham
Conservation Area which will hold a Grand Opening 
Event on Saturday, Dec. 2. SUBMITTED PHOTO 
A Grand Opening Event has been scheduled for the public on Saturday, Dec. 2 for the East Windham Conservation Area and work is proceeding for construction of the area’s parking lot and trails. The Grand Opening Event will serve as the Phase One opening for the project and will include creation of a trailhead parking area, signage, five miles of trails, and views of the western mountains.

The conservation area’s Phase Two opening will take place in the fall of 2024 once the remaining five miles of trails are built, including a universal access trail, which can be navigated by those with limited mobility and will lead to the scenic overlook and pond views. A third phase of the project is planned for future years and will include an observation tower.

In June 2022, Windham residents voted during the Annual Town Meeting to allow the town to enter a partnership with Presumpscot Regional Land Trust to purchase and conserve 661 acres near Little Duck Pond in East Windham. The project acquired the forested acreage for recreational opportunities in Windham while also adding 1,545 feet of undeveloped water frontage on Little Duck Pond, the 150-acre Deer Wintering Area for hunting, and Atherton Hill.

Last year, the Lands for Maine’s Future organization awarded the East Windham Conservation partners $998,000 to help fund the initiative. The project directly abuts 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, and amounting to one of the largest unfragmented forests in the Greater Portland region. Windham voters also approved a bond to match the LMF award with open space impact fees, so there will be no impact upon the mil rate for local taxpayers.

Once finished, the entire East Windham Conservation Area project will preserve a part of Windham that residents have identified is an important area to conserve during increasing concerns about local development and it offers scenic views of the western mountains and a place for outdoor recreation enthusiasts.

In the development of the town’s Open Space Plan, Windham surveys identified this area of East Windham as important to conserve for its large undeveloped habitat blocks and water quality protection. It also suggested conserving the land so it could remain undeveloped as future wildlife habitats and to preserve the town’s rural character. Another community benefit was identified for the area was to provide multiple-use outdoor recreation and creating access to the land for the community for walking, hiking, visiting an observation tower with 360-degree views, and experiencing scenic views of the White Mountains.

The conserved area includes Atherton Hill, which at nearly 600 feet, is the largest hill in Windham. It also features 2,000 feet of frontage along Little Duck Pond and 1,500 feet of pristine headwater streams that lead to Forest Lake, Highland Lake, and onto the Presumpscot River and an excellent wild brook trout habitat. Lowell Preserve, a 300-acre site owned by the town and for which the Presumpscot Regional Land Trust holds a conservation easement, is adjacent and includes an additional five miles of multi-use trails. The area will provide programming opportunities for school and afterschool groups and create an accessible one-mile trail for people of all ages to walk, push a stroller, and bike to visit Little Duck Pond.

“The purchase of this property and the open space it provides is consistent with our long-term comprehensive plan to preserve Windham’s rural character,” said Windham Town Councilor Brett Jones. “When you combine its 700 acres with other already established preserves, it will provide Windham and surrounding area residences with access to 2,000 acres of unspoiled nature and four seasons of outdoor recreational activities.”

Rachelle Curran Apse, executive director of the Presumpscot Regional Land Trust says that the outdoor experience offered by the East Windham Conservation Area will be second to none in this part of Maine, making a destination for walking, hiking, mountain biking, trail running, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and bird and wildlife watching.

“This regional scale project, which is both a destination for outdoor recreation and critical for wildlife habitat, has only been possible due to the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry’s Land for Maine’s Future Program, the Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, the Town of Windham’s conservation bond, lead business partner Gorham Savings Bank, numerous private foundations, and over 400 local individuals and families donating to make this project a reality.”

Last summer, the land trust received nearly 400 gifts for the East Windham Conservation Project, and the State of Maine also recognized the significance of the conservation project by approving a Lands for Maine’s Future grant which was matched by a bond created by the town.

“We have been excited about this project since the Town of Windham and Presumpscot Regional Land Trust first brought it to our attention in its exploratory phase,” said Steve Walker, Director of the Land for Maine’s Future. “This project embodies the best of public and private partnerships working together to protect the places that support our wildlife, our quality of life, and our economy.”

Linda Brooks, Windham Parks and Recreation Director, said that the town is excited about the multitude of outdoor recreation opportunities being made available by the acquisition and development of the properties creating this conserved area.

“Many partnerships have been formed already to see this project through to completion, and this unique outdoor recreation destination will be such an asset, providing opportunities for walking, hiking, mountain biking, wildlife watching, snowshoeing, hunting, fishing, and cross-country skiing,” Brooks said. “ATV riding and snowmobiling will also be available on designated trails.” <

To learn more about the Grand Opening Event for the East Windham Conservation Area and review an overview of the project, go to and <

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