WESTBROOK – A 35-acre parcel on the Falmouth border that was approved for a 12-house subdivision a half-century ago is on a track toward eternal preservation.

Westbrook is looking to buy the undeveloped land off Mast Road, which includes about half of a 45-acre peat bog. The other half of the bog is across the town line on a 94-acre parcel that Falmouth purchased earlier this year.

Falmouth officials recently approached Westbrook about buying the abutting land, valued at $125,000, and offered to write applications for grants to cover almost all of the cost.

“When it comes to conservation and open space, there are no town lines,” said Falmouth Town Manager Nathan Poore.

The Westbrook City Council signed off on the plan on Monday and, on Friday, submitted a letter to the Maine Natural Resources Conservation Program stating its intention to apply for funding.

The city hopes to receive $110,000 for from that organization and $20,000 from the Casco Bay Estuary Project, both of which granted money to Falmouth for its purchase of what’s now known as the Suckfish Brook Conservation Area.

The city expects to contribute $10,000 to cover the remaining costs, including legal fees, a hazardous waste survey and construction of a parking area.

The Westbrook parcel is owned by Arthur and Patricia McDermott, also the former owners of the land that Falmouth bought.

The couple bought hundreds of acres in Westbrook, Falmouth and Windham in the 1960s to use initially as woodlots, said their daughter Claire Langlois, who handles her elderly parents’ affairs.

A plan for a 12-lot subdivison on the Westbrook parcel was approved by city officials in 1965, Langlois said, but the McDermotts were waiting for the city to extend the public water line to the property before building. By the time that happened, environmental laws had changed, and fewer houses were allowed on the land.

Eric Dudley, city engineer for Westbrook, said the owners have talked over the past decade about submitting a new plan, but never did.

Now, Langlois said, it makes sense for her parents to sell the land in order to stop paying taxes on it. And, she said, “it would be nice to have it preserved.”

Bob Shafto, open-space ombudsman for Falmouth, said the wetlands, which absorb nutrients, play an important role in protecting nearby Highland Lake, which was recently removed from a list of the state’s endangered water bodies.

The woods, the bog and a beaver pond are home to an array of wildlife.

Just back from the access road on Upland Way in Falmouth, the croaks of frogs could be heard every few seconds on a recent sunny morning, as bright blue and green damselflies danced in the tall blades of grass.

An Eagle Scout and his friends recently cleared a near-mile-long loop for hiking in the northern portion of the property, and another shorter trail through the loop is planned, Shafto said.

On the other side of the bog, in Westbrook, plans are in the works to create a small parking area on an existing dirt inlet from Mast Road, right on the Falmouth border.

An old, overgrown logging road, which would be cleared, leads to the bog.

The Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife recently rejected the town’s plan to build a 100-foot boardwalk starting in Westbrook and extending into the bog and over the Falmouth border. Still, Shafto is confident the department will approve a smaller-scale version of the planned walkway and observation deck.

Falmouth obtained an easement on the McDermotts’ Westbrook property when it bought the abutting parcel, which is why it can move forward with those plans.

But, unless Westbrook buys and preserves the land, it still could be developed, said Shafto, while walking through the woods Friday and pointing out the high-bush blueberry plants and scat left by coyotes and bears.

He plucked a clump of sweet fern and put it to his nose, and later some winterberry leaves, which he said can be chewed like gum.

There are many reasons Shafto thinks the land should stay just the way it is.

“For wildlife, for water quality, for recreation, for aesthetics,” Shafto said, as he stuck his hand into a shrub and popped something into his mouth.

“And for blueberries,” he said.

 

Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at: 791-6364 or at

[email protected]

Twitter: lesliebridgers

 


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