SOUTH PORTLAND – Open spaces in the city, along with its parks and trails, have a new steward looking out for them.

Joanna Crispe is the new program manager for South Portland Land Trust and responsible for overall operations of the organization, including supporting the board, volunteer and project management, communications and marketing, fundraising and development, building partnerships with stakeholders and overseeing trust easements and properties.

“I’m happy to be home,” Crispe said during a phone interview in her first official week of work.

While she was born in the U.K., she grew up on Mount Desert Island and attended high school there.

One of Crispe’s first duties is to help with the trust’s inaugural Earth Week celebration April 20-27, notably, she said, organized solely by volunteers thus far.

President of the board Richard Rottkov said the trust has been without a program manager for three months. Crispe replaces Dugan Murphy, who held the part-time position from 2016 through the end of 2018.

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Crispe is living at home with family in Portland – she invites readers to let her know about any living opportunities in greater Portland – but said she’s developed connections to South Portland over the years.

“South Portland is where my friends have settled down and one of the things I really loved about the idea of this position was that I could actually be a steward of the land that my friends take their children to play and be outside,” she said. “I’m already invested in the connections I have to the community. I’m excited to grow that.”

Part of the trust’s goals, according to its website, are to link neighborhoods and communities through trails, engage the community in park and trail use and open space protection and support acquisition of open spaces.

It’s been well documented, Crispe said, that accessible open space benefits both the mental and physical health of users.

“Open space benefits people in different ways. Public parks are a really important asset for communities – places where people intersect and interact,” she added.

South Portland, like other communities in Maine, is growing, Crispe said, making trail connectivity important.

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“Cycling and walking are types of transportation that are growing,” she said.

When it comes to any particular easements or parcels of land the trust may be interested in acquiring, Crispe said she’d defer to the board.

Rottkov said he and South Portland resident and former city official Tom Blake have worked for the past year on the Open Space Planning Committee and will soon ask the city to permanently protect several parcels, with the idea that the trust will hold the conservation easements. The board has also discussed using land bank funds to purchase additional properties.

“While we were very impressed with the caliber of all the candidates for the land trust’s program manager position, Joanna’s background in fundraising and capacity building secured her the role,” Rottkov said. “Having worked at several nonprofits previously, Joanna has a proven track record in the skills we need the most: fundraising, superior technical skills and experience using social media platforms, and the vision to move us forward in the right direction.”

Crispe most recently was director of community engagement and education at the Municipal Art Society of New York where she developed and managed programs that, according to her resume, “built the capacity of community-based partners to organize and educated their neighbors around land use planning issues.”

She has also held positions with the Maine Association of Nonprofits, United Way of Greater Portland and the city of Portland’s department of public health.

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Because Crispe, “basically grew up in a national park,” nature has always been important to her.

“The opportunity to perform formal conservation work was very appealing,” she said.

Crispe sees much potential for growth at South Portland Land Trust.

“Every South Portland resident should about (the land trust) and feel it represents their interests,” she said.

On the flip side, engaging residents could be one of the more difficult aspects of such a position.

“There are so many great organizations doing really great work and people are busy,” she said. “I think it’s the same challenge you have in any nonprofit or in social justice work – organizations competing for limited resources, including people’s time and attention.”

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Crispe said it’s evident that South Portland has a dedicated board entrusted with the trails, parks and open spaces located within the municipality.

“There’s a great mix of folks who have been involved for a really long time and folks with new energy,” she added. “There’s an incredible mix of expertise and knowledge and I’m excited to learn from all of them.”

Crispe has a degree in urbanization and development from the London School of Economics and Political Science, which was at least partially inspired by time spent in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

Crispe obtained a BA in anthropology and a minor in business studies from Tulane University in Louisiana, graduating a year before the Category 5 hurricane killed nearly 2,000 people and caused $125 billion in property damage.

Crispe volunteered on reconstruction projects and became fascinated with the idea of the public being involved in rebuilding the community. In anthropology, Crispe was particularly interested in studying human interactions with the environment. Participating in community planning meetings and studying what she called “a few too many master plans” in New Orleans, solidified her interesting in land use and urban planning.

Crispe believes her connection to the outdoors and nature goes back way to before college, even before she lived on an island in Acadia National Park; Crispe and her family lived on a sailboat in the Caribbean for a handful of years.

“I was about 9,” Crispe said. “I feel so lucky that among the places we lived, we literally dropped anchor on the Maine coast and it became home.”

Crispe may be reached at [email protected]

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