Monday, March 10, 2014
By Tom Bell firstname.lastname@example.org
A coalition that has been working for six months to buy a 13-acre wooded parcel in a Back Cove neighborhood was expected to close the deal Friday.
In this April 2012 file photo, Tim Willoughby, carrying his daughter, Maeve, 2, and walking with his son Thomas, 4, enjoys one of the many natural paths that traverse Canco Woods. Willoughby lives in the area and often takes advantage of Canco Woods.
Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer
Neighbors of Canco Woods posted signs in April announcing a meeting to brainstorm ways to save their woods from industrial development. It has long been used as a park.
Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer
The group raised $300,000 to buy the parcel, known as Canco Woods, plus another $50,000 for a stewardship endowment and fees associated with the purchase.
The Trust for Public Land will buy the parcel from a foundation associated with Central Maine Power Co. and give the deed to the city of Portland.
Portland Trails will be given a conservation easement on the entire property.
"It will be protected forever," said Kara Wooldrik, executive director of Portland Trails.
More than 200 donors contributed $270,000 toward the project. Donations ranged from $5 to $25,000, said Wolfe Tone, executive director of the Trust for Public Land.
The Portland Land Bank Commission provided $75,000 in city funds after the Portland City Council unanimously endorsed the allocation.
The project has succeeded because of the hard work of residents in the neighborhood, said City Councilor Cheryl Leeman, whose district includes the Back Cove area.
Rather than fight development, residents created a group, Friends of Canco Woods, and raised the money to buy the property, Leeman said.
"People were willing to put their money on the line, which I haven't seen from a neighborhood before," she said. "They kicked into overdrive and made it happen."
Residents, who had fought development on the parcel several times over the years, realized that raising money to buy the land was their last chance to preserve it, said Tobin Scipione, a Wellwood Road resident who is among the leaders of the Friends of Canco Woods.
"People stepped up, with the recognition that if it didn't happen this time, it was never going to happen," she said.
Situated on Canco Road just a block northeast of Read Street, the parcel is bounded by single-family homes and a senior housing complex, and is linked to another parcel of preserved land behind the senior housing.
Central Maine Power, which is located on Canco Road, purchased the property more than 20 years ago as a potential site for expansion.
Even though it's private property, the parcel has been used as an ad hoc neighborhood park, complete with wooden bridges that cross wetlands and a stream.
CB Richard Ellis/The Boulos Co. last winter listed the parcel for $350,000, and in February the parcel went under contract to an undisclosed party.
But the contract was canceled shortly after residents opposed to the development began organizing.
Central Maine Power gave the group a deadline of Friday to raise the money.
The utility reduced the purchase price by $50,000 so the deal could be completed in time, Tone said.
Union Water & Power, a subsidiary of Iberdrola USA, which also owns Central Maine Power, until recently owned the property. However, for accounting purposes for the donation, the deed this fall was transferred to the Iberdrola USA Foundation.
Bob Kump, chief executive of Iberdrola USA and chairman of the foundation, said he is pleased to support the project.
The woods and trails will be a good addition to the city's larger system of parks and walking trails, he said.
The coalition still needs to raise an additional $10,000 for the endowment, Tone said.
Unlike the city's ballfields and manicured parks, Casco Woods offers neighborhood children a place to build tree forts and use their imaginations, Tone said.
That kind of childhood experience, he said, "cultivates the next generation to take care of places like Baxter State Park and Tumbledown Mountain," he said.
Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at: