Mousam Way Land Trust president Gordon Johnston gave some words of advice to Grade Two students from Sanford’s Lafayette School this spring as they planted milkweed seeds as part of a wildflower meadow at the McKeon Reserve in Springvale. Now the land trust is embarking on a plan to design an ecology center on the property, with community gardens, trails, a greenhouse  and much more. TAMMY WELLS/Journal Tribune file photo

SPRINGVALE – Picture a place for community gardens; picture a nature discovery trail, where people can slow down and look around them and enjoy. Picture a native plant and garden arboretum, and a greenhouse,  a nursery and more.

The entire project is likely to take three to five years to complete, but the Mousam Way Land Trust has recently endorsed the concept of a community ecology center at the new McKeon Environmental Reserve on Blanchard Road, said land trust president Gordon “Bud” Johnston.

“The original decision to purchase this land on Blanchard Road was based on the presence of significant habitats and species of conservation concern,” said Johnston. “When Kevin and Patricia McKeon donated an additional 38 acres of adjacent land with a barn, well and outdoor restroom, we envisioned a more active role for the land in our mission. Taken together, these features are tailor-made for a community center that will offer a variety of opportunities for expeditionary learning.”

In all, the McKeon Reserve is about 110 acres.

“It happens to be a perfect set-up to develop a center over there that can be used by the public,” said land trust board member Rick Stanley.

Johnston said a new endeavor for the land trust will be community garden with 24 plots for people who want to raise vegetables and flowers, but lack suitable space. Of those, one plot will be to benefit the food pantry, four are expected to be set aside for economically-challenged families and a couple for families who home school their children. He said as funds permit, the land trust hopes to launch the community garden this year, with the help of master gardeners from York County Cooperative Extension.

There’s more.

“The two and one-half miles of trails on the reserve have a story to tell about plants, animals, ecology, geology and history,” said Johnston. “It will become a self-guiding Nature Discovery Trail.”

Johnston went on to explain that a Native Plant Garden and Arboretum, a collection of plants and trees found in the region, will be incorporated and a pollinator meadow, now underway, is part of the trail. He said that project is faring well, with a number of different plantings already made.

An outdoor restroom on the property has been refurbished with the help of Lowe’s and Genest Precast, and is nearly complete.

Finally, to provide transplants for the garden and other land trust reserves, a nursery and greenhouse will be created – the nursery will be adjacent to the community garden and the greenhouse attached to the barn already on the property.

The center will be named the David and Linda Pence Community Ecology Center in honor of their major donations to the purchase of the land, Johnston said.

The Mousam Way Land Trust owns or manages just under 800 acres in Sanford and Springvale. Johnston said the premise had been to provide a community service looking to the future – the permanent protection of local land for the benefit of the public and future generations. With the ecology center, a more immediate community service will be offered.

“All of a sudden, it came together,” said Johnston of the plan. “It’s exciting.”

Development of the center is expected to take three to five years because of the need to raise funds for each element of the plan.

“A lot depends on grants,” said Johnston.

In the meantime traditional classes and group youth work projects for hands-on learning will be expanded, said Johnston, with public tours, classes and demonstrations. Once the nursery and greenhouse are in place, horticultural classes will demonstrate the techniques of wildflower and woody plant propagation, he said.

Kevin and Patty McKeon, for whom the reserve is named, live nearby.

Kevin, a member of the land trust board, said the couple walk frequently in the reserve and gave a tour earlier this week to a couple of folks.

“This is a dream come true for us,” he said. “This ecology enter and reserve has been a retirement dream for Patty and I both.”

— Senior Staff Writer Tammy Wells can be contacted at 780-9016 or [email protected]

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