CAPE ELIZABETH – The Cape Elizabeth Conservation Commission has a new map and they’d like you to come and deface it.

At two community forums, one to be held Thursday, May 30, and another on Tuesday, June 11, the public will be asked to mark up town maps with their favorite or most-hoped-for hiking trails, and to identify their priorities for completion of the Greenbelt Trail.

Markings on the maps and other forum comments will help guide the commission as it works to finalize a new master plan for the Greenbelt system.

According to Town Planner Maureen O’Meara, the preservation of open space has been a “consistently high priority” in Cape since the first Greenbelt Plan was created in 1977. That plan was updated in 1988 and in 2001. The 2013 update now on the table is somewhat overdue given a comprehensive plan goal that all master plans in town get overhauled every seven years.

The new Greenbelt Plan envisions a trail system in which every Cape neighborhood is within walking distance of a public path linked to an expanded greenbelt.

The original 1977 Greenbelt Plan set as its primary goal the creation of a trail linking Fort Williams Park to Crescent Beach State Park. The 2001 update broadened that vision to a “hub-and-spoke” network of trails designed to encompass the entire town. That plan was said to be influential in the Town Council’s decision last year to contribute $350,000 to the purchase of Robinson Woods II, a 70-acre open space that connects the Stonegate and Robinson Woods trail systems to the town center.

Cape Elizabeth’s Greenbelt has grown to include a collection of open spaces, some owned by the town, others under the control of the Cape Elizabeth Land Trust, all with “legal public access rights.” In all, there are 1,700 acres and more than 17 miles of trails in the Greenbelt system.

The 2013 iteration of the plan moves beyond the hub-and-spoke concept, advocating instead for a trail network that is “thoroughly integrated throughout the town.”

The proposed list of roughly 30 new trails, the exact number depending on possible layout patterns, has not won accolades from all property owners, despite what is widely regarded as strong support for open space in town.

At an April 9 meeting of the Conservation Commission, Algonquin Street resident Aaron Anker said he felt the Shore Acres community has been “shattered” by a proposal to extend the trail system along an unbuilt section of Surf Side Avenue, a so-called “paper street.”

More than a dozen residents spoke at that meeting, for and against the Surf Side proposal. While some called the potential trail a “wonderful addition” to the greenbelt, others fretted about public access on what has always been a private road with specific deeded rights. Brian Livingston, of Pilot Point Road, noted in an email to the commission that only about half of the area residents in the private community belong to the Shore Acres Improvement Association. Others belong to the Ocean View Association, he said, and the town “may be intervening in something that will further divide the neighborhood.”

Meanwhile, a number of farmers in town, including John Greene of the Cape Farm Alliance, have objected to the publication and promotion of a trail map. Penny Jordan, of Wells Road, said that while farmland is often viewed as open space, encouraging people and pets to cross working fields “compromises standards” for food safety.

Because he operates heavy equipment on his Wells Road farm, Bill Jordan also said he “has problems with encouraging people to walk on the farm” through publication of a map.

Addressing both complaints, the conservation commission has said that where conceptual trails shown on its maps cross private property, “no trail or public access with be promoted without the willing participation of the landowner.”


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