CUMBERLAND — My name is Karen Herold, and I live in Cumberland near the border with the town of Gray. A Monday Portland Press Herald article, “Narrow Gauge Railroad’s move to Gray on touchy track,” failed to address several important concerns raised by the project.

As a cross-country skier and a trail runner, I’ve traveled on the route of the old interurban railway and have thought how wonderful it must have been to ride a trolley to Lewiston or Portland. I’ve explored the right of way that runs through my town and tried to follow the pieces of the route in Gray. I admire the project proponents’ ambitious effort to showcase this trolley line and the Narrow Gauge Railroad.

However, the project’s proposed location is the Gray Meadow, a highly valuable natural resource protected by the Shoreland Zoning Act and the Natural Resources Protection Act. This large wetland is a major floodwater holding area, helping to prevent flooding of nearby areas. It’s also a mapped, state-designated significant wildlife habitat for inland waterfowl and wading birds.

The meadow is a stop on the Maine Birding Trail. Eighty-three species of birds have been observed at the meadow. There are 35 species of greatest conservation need, such as the sora and the American bittern, and 16 state-listed species of special concern, such as the declining great blue heron.

The meadow provides breeding habitat for bitterns, rails, waterfowl and songbirds. It also includes habitat for one state-designated endangered species (the New England cottontail rabbit) and may contain habitat for another (the least bittern).

Earlier this year, the Legislature rejected a measure proposed by railway proponents that would have created exemptions in our environmental protection laws for the project. The Legislature’s opposition to the bill sent a clear signal to the railway supporters that they should make a different plan for the historic trolley line that does not repeat the environmental mistakes of the past.

At the hearing on the bill, a representative of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection expressed concerns that passage of the legislation would set a precedent for future exemptions on similar projects. As the Environment and Natural Resources Committee discussed the bill, it became clear that the project would also need approval under Maine’s Endangered Species Act and would need to receive permit approval from the federal Army Corps of Engineers.

I am a student of natural history and a bird watcher. Traveling into Gray on Route 100, one could think that’s just a plain of cattails next to the road. However, that seemingly simple plain is a complex marsh ecosystem that supports wildlife and regulates and purifies water flows.

When the rains are heavy, I watch the water levels creep up to the roadbed. I know that every nearby building and parking lot and every bit of vegetation cut next to the marsh decreases the ability of the wetland to support wildlife and temper flooding.

In the past, our ancestors altered land with little concern for the effects of their actions beyond the immediate objective of the work. They drained swamps for pasture, cut trees to the waterline for lumber and dumped waste oil into the ground because it was convenient.

In 1914, the developers of the interurban railway built a causeway right through the Gray Meadow. They probably didn’t understand the impact their construction would have on flood control and wildlife habitat.

However, advancing science revealed the ingenious and complicated functions of wetlands and their importance in sheltering wildlife and regulating water flows. Ecology taught us the particular vulnerability wetlands have to disturbance. After so many years of land alterations, we wised up.

Legislators concluded that so many wetlands had been lost and degraded that controls were necessary. The Legislature enacted the Natural Resources Protection Act and the Shoreland Zoning Act, and every project since then has had to comply with the rules.

It’s easy to get caught up in the nostalgia of the historic trolley line, and it’s understandable to want to bring a piece of it back to its original route. However, we now know a lot of science that we didn’t know when the line was built. We now know the damage caused by building structures and clearing vegetation next to wetlands.

We now have minimal, common-sense setbacks and vegetation clearing restrictions for all projects near wetlands. Since the discontinuation of the railroad many years ago, nature has restored the Gray Meadow to its previous splendor. Let’s learn from our earlier mistakes and locate the project in a more environmentally friendly and suitable location.