KENNEBUNKPORT – Saco Valley Land Trust has received a $23,000 grant that could help make a conservation bridge project a reality.

The trust is celebrating its 30th year in operation and has focused its efforts on the bridge project, which has been underway for a year and will take what the trust projects will be another two years to complete. The undertaking will connect 12 easement parcels that, when completed, will consist of about 500 protected acres within thousands of acres in what’s known as the vernal pool complex, an area of undeveloped wetlands and forests that span Kennebunkport and Biddeford Pool.

According to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, vernal pools are seasonal bodies of water that are essential breeding habitats for wildlife in forested wetlands.

The most recent acquisition to the project is a 40- acre tract of land off Guinea Road in Biddeford purchased for $60,000, a below-market rate price from the previous owner who wished to prevent development on the land. The trust now has set its sights on an adjacent 50-acre parcel, which it has until January to raise the funds to purchase for $45,000.

The $23,000 grant was awarded to the trust by the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund, which garners funding from scratch tickets. Twice a year it selects proposals from organizations, this year choosing to grant the Saco Valley Land Trust request for funding to aide in the completion of its project.

On Nov. 25, two members of the Saco Valley Land Trust, Susan Littlefield of Saco and Richard Rhames of Biddeford, toured the piece of land the trust hopes to purchase with the grant. Located at the end of Misty Meadows Lane, the property is an open expanse of field before the tree line, which leads to a wooded area with the Little River running through it.

Rhames, who is also a member of the Biddeford Conservation Commission, has walked the land many times and identifies trees and animal tracks as he walks. The primary job of a land trust is stewardship of the land, meaning caring and maintaining forestry.

Along the walk Rhames points out places where the land could benefit from the attention of the trust. Rhames points out places where weevils have forced trees to fork, creating two trunks, and other places where trees bare scars from the fire of 1947, when the whole area was wiped out.

“There’s a beauty in this area because it’s the land that time forgot. It was used for lumber, but after the fire, it’s almost as if everyone forgot it was back here,” Rhames said.

The land contains headwaters for Little River, which runs through the property down to tidal areas in Biddeford Pool. The acquisition would help protect the river and ensure the plot will be undeveloped.

The areas of acquisition have remained untouched for decades. However, development has made the threat of expansion real to untouched forests. On the walk through the wooded 50-acre plot there are flagged stakes that show where there had once been plans for development.

“We never had to worry about these areas before because Biddeford wasn’t ‘cool.’ Now that Biddeford is the ‘cool’ place to live, we want to make sure we protect areas like this, because we think that it’s worth something,” Rhames said.

As well as preserve forestry in the area, Saco Valley Land Trust has been in contact with Saco Bay Trails, which has expressed interest in creating paths.

In addition to the grant, Saco Valley Land Trust has received funds from the Fields Pond Foundation, Saco & Biddeford Savings, the David Conservation Foundation and UNE Sustainability Club. Saco Valley Land Trust still has funds to raise before it can officially purchase the land, and is accepting donations on its website, savovalleylandtrust.org.

“The great thing about Biddeford is that all of this,” Rhames said, gesturing to the woods around him. “All of it is so close. You can hike around and not have to drive hours away. We want to keep this for everyone, and take care of it so it can grow.”

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