The two-acre pond in South Portland that connects to Kimball Brook, and is part of the the Dow Woods Nature Preserve. Contributed

SOUTH PORTLAND ⁠— For 76-year-old Barbara Dow Nucci, next week’s official opening of a public trail at the Dow’s Woods Nature Preserve brings back a flood of childhood memories and reminders of the generosity shown by her parents, Eleanor and Richard Dow.

Eleanor and Richard Dow in the late 1990s. Contributed

“That was once our playground,” she said in an interview July 22, describing how she and her siblings would play in treehouses on warm summer days and skate on Kimball Pond when it froze over each winter.

“My parents were always extremely generous, and there was never a trespass sign,” Nucci said. “They let everyone go, as long as they were respectful. I’m so grateful it will remain open to all citizens.”

The South Portland Land Trust, which manages the 9.3-acre preserve across Highland Avenue from South Portland High School, will open the trail with a ribbon-cutting ceremony Aug. 1.

SPLT, a nonprofit organization whose mission to improve quality of life in the city through education and trail expansion, holds 18 properties and easements to preserve natural habitats and trail access for public enjoyment.

Nucci, who has been a leader of the campaign to protect the property, said it had become a running joke that visiting Dow’s Woods was a “right of passage” for city residents, because so many people had coming-of-age stories that included walking through the woods.

Whether they had their first kiss there, or drank their first beer, or learned to skate on the pond, she said the property has played an important part in many people’s lives.

“My father taught me and my siblings to drive a four-wheel stick shift in those woods when I was only 12 years old,” she chuckled, also noting that the high school track team would use the trail for practice quite often in the 1960s.

The Dow’s Woods trail head in South Portland. Contributed

“My parents were just so open about sharing this property with the community that it seems fitting to preserve it forever, for anyone who would like to have a quiet walk or meditation,” Nucci said.

She said it was of utmost importance to her that the land become a nature preserve to ensure it would remain unchanged. She also hopes the space will be utilized by schools for educational and research purposes.

The preserve at 590 Highland Ave. was established in 2016 when the Dow family transferred land to H.W. Land Co. for a residential development, with the condition that more than 9 acres be set aside as a nature preserve.

Nucci said her father also sold a portion of the property in the 1980s, where the Dow Woods Condominiums were built several years later.

According to SPLT President Richard Rottkov, the South Portland Land Bank provided $140,000 in December 2015 to purchase the easement, which is held by the SPLT.

The preserve consists of undeveloped dense woodland and a 2-acre pond, part of the Kimball Brook system. The trail is intended for passive recreation, nature observation, education and research, and will only be accessible by foot. In order to preserve the environment, pets, bicycles and motorized vehicles are prohibited.

“I was striving to preserve this amazing oasis smack in the middle of the city and the best way to do that was to prohibit domesticated animals and motorized vehicles,” Nucci said. “I wanted it to stay a habitat for all wild animals. I’ve taken many photographs of animals that live and thrive there and I want others to experience the beauty, too.”

Rottkov said SPLT board members, staff and volunteers completed cleanup and maintenance of the trail June 29 and installed a new sign at the trailhead July 20 in advance of next week’s formal opening.

“Other future work will be needed, such as dam filtration and further maintenance of the pond,” Rottkov said July 23. “That will be an extensive project though, something our volunteers will handle later down the road.”

City officials, representatives of the land trust and members of the Dow family are expected to attend the Aug. 1 opening ceremony at 1 p.m. Members of the public are also invited; parking will be available in the Highland Avenue parking area, across from the Preservation Lane entrance to Dow’s Woods.

Rottkov said preserved woods in an otherwise densely populated area provide a protected ecosystem and natural habitat for many species. The prosperity of humanity, he said, also relies on areas like this.

“Preserving 9 acres at one time is a rarity, and that’s why I call the trail and preserve a gem. It’s a beautiful property,” he said. “For an urban city like South Portland, all of this green space helps offset the buildup of carbon dioxide in the air and reduces the greenhouse effect. It’s just a win-win for everyone.”

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