Jon Shaw of Shaw Brothers Family Foundation greets Presumpscot River kayakers as they glide past Shaw Family Foundation’s property in Gorham last week. The foundation plans to soon open its recreation area to the public. Robert Lowell/American Journal

GORHAM — Hiking trails built through a historical land grant will soon be open to the public pending a lease agreement with the town.

Shaw Brothers Family Foundation hopes to reach a lease deal soon to make public trails and other year round recreational opportunities available at its 258-acre Shaw Cherry Hill Farm. Positioned at Gorham’s eastern gateway, the property’s trails will be accessed by a road from lower Main Street (Route 25).

“We’re ready to open,” Jon Shaw, president of Shaw Brothers Construction, said last week. “Everything is done.”

A trail sign at Shaw Cherry Hill Farm in Gorham. Robert Lowell/American Journal

Shaw and his brother Danny Shaw, Gorham natives and owners of Shaw Brothers Construction, established the non-profit family foundation.

The foundation has offered the town a lease for $1 a year with a proviso that the town provide liability insurance. Under terms of a sample lease provided by the Shaws, the foundation would provide maintenance, plow the parking area in the winter and have the right to build additional trails.

A lease would cover the entrance road, parking, trails and frontage on the Presumpscot River. The foundation has constructed a trail network of more than three miles.

The town is reviewing the lease proposal.

“We’re currently working on the specifics of an agreement with them and will likely be wrapping it up this month. It should be a beneficial relationship for both parties, and I know they have done some amazing recreational improvements to the site,” Town Manager Ephrem Paraschak said in an email to the American Journal Tuesday.

The foundation bought the 258-acre tract from ecomaine, the waste management and recycling co-op, in 2016. The tract has a rich heritage with roots tracing back nearly 300 years.

Most of the parcel today is in an original 300-acre grant to John Tyng in 1730, during the reign of the British monarch King George II. Presumpscot River was then a highway through a wilderness to the tract. The parcel includes a section of the old Cumberland and Oxford Canal that had connected the Lakes Region with Portland.

“This is a special piece of land,” Shaw said.

To comply with the town’s conditions of support in acquiring the site, the foundation agreed to make the Route 25 frontage available for businesses with connections to agriculture . The foundation leased a 5.6-acre parcel to Sebago Brewing Company, which has built a headquarters that includes brewery, tasting room and offices.

Three other commercial lots along Route 25 remain available for lease.

The foundation has constructed eight, named trails through the farm. One trail is named for Burleigh Loveitt, a former longtime town councilor and chairman, while another is the ecomaine Trail.

Shaw said the foundation used more than 50,000 yards of rock in building trails and parking lots.

The trails will support emergency vehicles. Trail bridges are salvaged sections cut from the deck of the demolished Sarah Long Bridge in Kittery.

“We’ve spent some money down here,” Shaw said while touring the trails. He declined to give a monetary figure.

Rules for the trails allow hiking, bicycling and hand-carrying canoes and kayaks to the river. Winter uses include skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling and sledding. Prohibited are hunting, alcohol, ATVs, horses and fires.

Jon Shaw, left, talks with Mark Chartier about seeding a hay field last week at Shaw Cherry Hill Farm in Gorham. Robert Lowell/American Journal

The  foundation has cleared about 100 acres of the site for hayfields to preserve the town’s agricultural roots. Mark Chartier of Standish last week was sowing tilled soil with hayseed. “It will stay hay forever,” Shaw said.

The Shaws grew up on a Gorham dairy farm. The name Shaw Cherry Hill  derives from their forebear’s line of purebred cows.

Shaw envisions building two replica barns and stocking the new farm with beef cattle. The foundation will pay for insurance to cover the agricultural components at the historic site.

“A large portion of the property will be off limits due to farming operations, unless it is snow-covered,” Town Council Chairman Benjamin Hartwell said. “Out front, there is also about a 2-acre area that can be flooded for ice skating.”

The foundation sees the site attracting school groups from Gorham and Westbrook, Scouts and civic organizations. It hopes the farm would be used for agricultural education.

In past decades, previous owners of the tract had proposed development projects that included 900 homes, a stump dump and a power plant.

“If we can save a farm, what better than that,” Shaw said.


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