The 20-acre Community Park, off Winn Road in Falmouth, is one of the town’s premier open spaces. It includes an an extensive trail system with scenic river and field vistas. Courtesy / Maine Trail Finder

FALMOUTH — Good management of the town’s open spaces is required to keep them operating sustainably, the Town Council was told Monday.

The Land Management and Acquisitions Committee has been working since January on how to best implement the town’s updated Open Space Plan, which the council adopted last fall, Open Space Manager Amanda Stearns said.

The first steps, she said this week, include improving the town’s geographical information system, or GIS, to include vital open space infrastructure data, such as the exact location of bridges, informational kiosks and trail signs. Accurate GIS tagging of the town’s open spaces could also help emergency personnel respond more quickly to accidents or calls for help from people on the trails, she said.

Currently, Stearns said, the GIS data available is not “super-accurate,” so it’s not helpful for planning maintenance projects or for overall open space management.

Another top priority, she said, would be the creation of a new comprehensive trail management plan. This is a necessary document, Stearns said, so that town staff, volunteers and the public can understand and be guided by trail use policies, maintenance goals and expansion plans.

Overall, she said, the town has about 2,500 acres of open space with approximately 50 miles of trails, and a formal management strategy is needed in order to maintain the quality of these resources.

“We have a lot of wonderful assets, but we need policies and strategies to make sure they’re being managed properly,” Stearns said.

The land management committee is also recommending that the town update the rating guide it uses to evaluate whether to acquire open space. Right now, Stearns said, the rating system doesn’t give enough weight to acquiring open space in already developed areas of town, which could also be a key growth management tool.

In addition, the committee recommends that the town develop or update specific site-related land management plans for each individual parcel of open space.

Stearns said only 15 of the about 30 parcels of conserved land in town even have management plans, and they all need to be not only updated, but also integrated with the Terrestrial Invasives Management and Control Plan developed last year, the new Open Space Plan and the Trail Management Plan that will be developed.

The Open Space Plan replaces the 2006 Greening of Falmouth plan, Stearns said. The goal of the earlier document was mostly to guide land acquisition, while the goal of the new document is to provide guidance for how to best manage and operate the open space the town already has, she said.

There are no proposals for new land acquisition in the pipeline, according to John Adelman, chairman of the Land Management and Acquisitions Committee, but that could change because developers are now being urged to consider conserving open space as part of any new project.

Stearns said the committee hopes the Town Council will consider its proposed action steps during an upcoming retreat, where it will set priorities for its annual work plan. “We just want to make sure we’re on the right track,” she said.

Stearns said the land management committee likely wouldn’t complete all of the recommended first steps in implementing the Open Space Plan during the 2020 fiscal year, but said it would get as much done as possible.

In the 2021 fiscal year, she said, the committee hopes the council will be willing to make a financial investment of at least $10,000, which would go toward the purchase of a new GPS unit that could be used to add data to the town’s GIS system, as well as hiring a part-time employee to do the geo-tagging work.

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