Most people know Clark’s Pond as a popular shopping area, with stores that include Bass Shoes, Marshall’s Department Store and Bob’s Discount Furniture.

But environmentalist Tom Blake wants the public to appreciate Clark’s Pond for something else – its nature trails, 100-year-old oaks and potential for urban recreation.

On Sept. 30, the South Portland Land Trust and the West End Trails Committee officially will open the first section of the Clark’s Pond Trail, located near the Maine Mall, the heart of Maine’s busiest retail hub.

“This is land that has been untouched by mankind for 60 years, even though it lies in the most urban area in the state of Maine,” said Blake, the land trust president.

Gov. John Baldacci will cut the ribbon to the 1.2 mile trail off Westbrook Street, at the carved wood trail-head marker, behind Home Depot. There will be a trail map and kiosk to guide hikers.

A second gravel trail that is wheelchair accessible and goes to Clark’s Pond Point also will be formally opened to the public.

The ribbon cutting and a trail tour get under way at 10 a.m., followed by a cookout at Jordan Park, in back of the Brick Hill apartments on Westbrook Street.

Opening the Clark’s Pond Trail is part of a much larger plan to revitalize Long Creek, the state’s most contaminated watershed. Long Creek and other tributaries feed into Clark’s Pond, which once thrived with trout, beaver and other wildlife.

Blake described the trail’s development as “a major step in our long-term vision to make the western part of South Portland, including the Maine Mall area, recreationally and environmentally appealing for our citizens.”

Organizers hope to highlight the new trail, as well as other recent improvements to parks, sidewalks and green spaces in South Portland’s west end, which has heavy traffic and dozens of shopping centers.

They also want to promote outdoor recreation at a time when Americans are traveling less to national parks because of rising gas prices, and kids are spending more time in front of computers instead of playing outside. A member of the National Park Service also will be at the ceremony.

“The goal is to provide outdoor recreational opportunities for people of all ages and interests in urban areas,” Blake said. “People increasingly cannot afford to travel or they cannot take the time to travel.”

Blake noted that no taxpayer money was used to create Clark’s Pond Trail, which has three footbridges that cross streams and several wood stairways built into the land as the slope changes.

The land trust obtained easements from property owners to create the trail, including Home Depot, Portland Water District and the Boulos Corp.

Eighty-five volunteers initially bushwhacked and cut the trail in 2006. Members of the Appalachian Mountain Club’s professional trail crew finished the work this past summer, fortifying walkways and adding erosion control.

Clark’s Pond Trail will be maintained by volunteers in a new stewardship program sponsored by the land trust. Participants from Youth Alternatives, a nonprofit agency for at-risk young people, will keep the trails clean. The work will enable the young people to meet community service requirements.

The first phase of the trail runs from behind Home Depot and skirts the pond’s south side. The trail traverses woodlands and passes the site of a former ice-making house that operated at Clark’s Pond in the late 1800s until World War II.

The trail, canopied by large pines, maples and oaks, is not visible from nearby Interstate 295 or Westbrook Street, though hikers can hear the traffic.

Blake pointed out fallen poplar trees that had been gnawed by beavers 10 to 12 years ago, when wildlife still populated the woods.

When the trail was first cut, volunteers also found the complete skeleton of a moose that most likely was hit by a vehicle and fled into the brush. They also have removed debris left by farmsteads that once were located by the pond.

The trail ends at Westbrook Street, near the I-295 overpass, also known as Exit 3. Volunteers eventually plan to create a loop around Clark’s Pond.

The land trust hopes to extend finger trails from the Clark’s Pond Trail through a stretch of woods between I-295 and the Maine Mall. The idea is to make it easier for people to walk and shop, if they choose, instead of using their vehicles to go short distances between stores and centers.

Blake said that area businesses have supported the creation of Clark’s Pond Trail, and consider it an added attraction for shoppers and workers in the mall area.

Representatives from the Portland Pipeline Co., National Semiconductor and General Growth Properties, which owns the Maine Mall, sit on the West End Trails committee.

“We want to preserve and utilize the open spaces there now for the purpose of recreation,” Blake said. “It increases transportation options and makes the area more livable and aesthetically pleasing for everyone.

“It used to be that people would head to the mall, shop and get out as quick as they can. Now they have other options. They can shop at Macy’s and go hiking, too.”

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