Perched high atop the Ferris Wheel at the Topsham Fair in August I get a glorious view of Topsham. Sitting in one of the cars at the very top, I feel like I can see the whole town. Every year I look forward to this experience.

Off to one side I see the silver glint of the Androscoggin River. Looking the other way, I see the land slope upwards toward Mount Ararat. In between I see mostly trees, a carpet of lush green. I try to see where Middlesex Road and Foreside Road carve a path through the trees. I crane my neck to see if I can make out Main Street or River Road or I-295, or the clear-cuts for the power lines that march across Topsham.

I look towards where I know Topsham Fair Mall must be, but I can’t see it. Neither can I see Bradley Pond, Head of Tide or the Rec Fields despite knowing right where they are.

Of houses I catch sight of only a few roofs along Elm Street. I know that beneath the trees that fill my view there are Topsham’s many neighborhoods: Topsham Heights and Woodside, Bay Park, Highland Green and several dozen others. I know each of these neighborhoods has its own character. Each has its own activities, its own networks of family and friendship.

Even though the August view from the top of the Ferris Wheel gives me my widest and most far reaching view of the town, I’m reminded each year I ride the wheel how much I cannot see from up there. To really see Topsham, I’d have to be down on the ground, travelling its streets and visiting its neighborhoods, talking to its residents.

No one person could take it all in. To really experience Topsham, we’d need people from all its neighborhoods, young and old, recent arrivals and those who’ve lived here all their lives. We’d need a community conversation, one to which everyone was invited — and joined in.

And so we issue an invitation to such a community gathering.

“Find • Meet • Plan Your Topsham” is what we are calling this community gathering to which we invite all of Topsham. The invitation comes from Topsham’s Comprehensive Plan Update Committee. We have been charged by the town’s Board of Selectmen to review the Comprehensive Plan the Town approved in 2005 and bring it up to date.

We’re holding the event to gather ideas for Topsham’s future. There will be hands-on activities for people of all ages, presentations and workshops, food and music, and celebrations of what it means to live in Topsham.

The Comprehensive Plan takes in who we are as a town: what are our strengths, and what are the challenges and opportunities we face? It tries to provide directions for the future. It is a different kind of far-reaching view of our town, one that tries to give us a view of all of Topsham and to point to where we want to go.

The dates are Oct. 19-23 (Thursday to Monday). The location is the old Fire Barn in Topsham’s lower village. We’ll be publicizing a more detailed schedule in the weeks to come.

We urge all Topsham residents to take part. The view will be even more spacious than the one from the Ferris Wheel.

Doug Bennett is president emeritus of Earlham College. He lives in Topsham.

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