The entrance to the 180-acre parcel from the Lower Village is across the street from the First Congregational Church, 19 Gloucester Hill Road. Courtesy of Alan Stearns

NEW GLOUCESTER — The Royal River Conservation Trust is partnering with Gray-New Gloucester Little League on an ambitious Lower Village conservation plan that will be a “community-oriented project.”

The two groups will buy a 180-acre parcel of land in New Gloucester from Don and Lynne Chandler, who have given them a few years to raise the money needed. The price for the parcel has not been finalized, and there will be a second appraisal.

Gray-New Gloucester Little League will expand its ballfields as part of the project. Courtesy of Alan Stearns

The land will be conserved in perpetuity as part of the Royal River Conservation Trust’s existing Intervale preserve. The project will preserve areas of historical significance and important habitats — including frontage on Stevens Brook, wading bird and wildfowl habitat, open marshes, vast wetlands and beaver ponds — and also explore the potential for trail development and other recreational use. Gray-New Gloucester Little League will own five to 10 acres of the parcel and plans to build new ballfields.

“We’re very excited,” said Little League board member Steve Libby. “It’s a fun project.”

Libby reached out to the Chandlers in the past about buying some of their property, but they weren’t ready to sell then. When they did agree, they wanted to sell the entire parcel, not split it up, so Libby reached out to Alan Stearns, the trust’s executive director.

The Chandlers “were delighted when we offered to take the whole parcel off their plate for conservation,” Stearns said. “We will be working with the Little League to jointly develop that project for everybody’s benefit.”

Stearns stressed that the project is still in its early stages: “We are still in that stage of inviting input locally before we fully define our budget and our vision for the parcel.” 

The total cost will depend on how many ballfields are built and the scope of the trail construction. Libby estimates there will be between one and three baseball or softball fields as well as parking, dugouts and a snack shack. Stearns does not know how much the project will cost, although he said fundraising efforts will begin in 2020.

We’ll need to raise several hundred thousand dollars of private charitable funds. In addition to asking the community to give us their ideas, we’ll also be asking the community to dig deep,” he said. 

The Selectboard gave support for the project in July, and Stearns said he is seeking input from neighbors and other community members.

The new ballfields will make scheduling much easier for the Little League. “Scheduling is a nightmare because we don’t have enough ballfield space,” Libby said, so the group is currently “at the whim of the town” when it comes to scheduling practices.

In addition, Stearns said, “Lower Gloucester Village is exceptional in a historic perspective. It is one of the more unique villages in Cumberland County from the perspective of quality of place.” 

Town Manager Carrie Castonguay said while the project “is very, very early in the process,” it is “just nice to have the conservation of that parcel in place. It would be really nice to have a trail system.”

The parcel is unique, Stearns said, because it “actually connects our preserve with the village itself and thus there’s a real opportunity for villageoriented trails, which are very different from simple land conservation for habitat.”

“With some improvements,” he continued, “it will be a yearround walking trail connecting different parts of Lower Gloucester Village.”

There will be a community walk on Sept. 21 at 9 a.m. for anyone who is interested in learning more about the project or contributing suggestions. Those who are interested should meet in the First Congregational Church parking lot, 19 Gloucester Hill Road.

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