A 170-acre parcel of land in eastern Biddeford is the latest piece of an ecologically important tract of 16,000 acres to be protected from development.

The parcel, known as the Cranberry Marsh North, is at the end of Georgetown Road off West Street. The Saco Valley Land Trust recently purchased a conservation easement on the property for an undisclosed sum from the estate of Arlene Thompson Chappell. The easement will keep the land open to the public while prohibiting development.

“It cost well below the development value,” said Denis Rioux, a Saco Valley Land Trust board member.

Part of the land at Cranberry Marsh North was farmed as a cranberry bog in the 1700s, said Rioux. The property supports several species of rare plants and animals, including the spotted turtle. Rioux said the trust will mark trails on the land, which is now unposted, and later put up signs.

Chappell’s donation, through her estate, is part of a larger tract known as the Biddeford Kennebunkport Vernal Pool Complex, which the state has designated an important conservation area.

It contains many vernal pools, temporary basins of water formed by snow melt and spring run-off that dry out during summer. The pools provide important breeding grounds for amphibians and invertebrates. Blandings turtles, pale green orchis, and small reed grass are among the rare species that inhabit the area.

The vernal pool focus area is almost equally divided between Biddeford and Kennebunkport. The Kennebunkport Conservation Trust has protected 1,458 acres of the area.

“We have made significant gains,” said Tom Bradbury, the trust’s executive director.

Saco Valley Land Trust holds easements on about 354 acres of the large tract.

Keith Fletcher of Maine Coast Heritage Trust, who overseas the regional effort to protect the tract, said he expects more land will be protected in the area soon.

Fletcher said land prices are reasonable, several funding sources are available and much of the land is held by a few owners.

“While there is a long way to go, we can make some quick progress,” Fletcher said.

Funding for the Cranberry Marsh North easement came from state and federal sources and private nonprofit groups, including Fields Pond, the Davis Family, the Open Space Institute’s Saving New England’s Wildlife Program and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

Chappell donated another easement on her land, the first for the Saco Valley Land Trust, 20 years ago. Rioux said she had been very supportive of the trust.

 

Staff Writer Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at: [email protected]