Tom Blake accepts the South Portland Land Trust’s first Tom Blake Leadership Award on Dec. 18. Courtesy of Michael Strout

SOUTH PORTLAND — The South Portland Land Trust held its annual meeting on Dec. 18, with a breakfast to thank supporters, discuss past accomplishments and consider new goals and events.

Members, volunteers and supporters gathered in the McKernan Center at Southern Maine Community College to learn about SPLT’s goals and achievements. The first speaker of the morning was Tom Blake, environmentalist and the SPLT’s first president.

Blake took the audience back to pre-colonized America, when Native Americans and now-extinct species called the land of South Portland their home. Using artifacts and photographs to enhance his presentation, Blake then described the changes Europeans made to the land and area, bringing the audience back to the present day.

He described the challenges he faced when trying to preserve a piece of land, eventually establishing the land trust.

“We called a meeting at City Hall,” he said, “and we waved a check. ‘We have $500,’ and this is as good an example of paying it forward as you can get. We said, if the community if 30 people sign up to form a land trust, we’ll give you $500. We had 35 people sign up, had an initial meeting, and therefore began the South Portland Land Trust.”

At the end of the meeting, President Richard Rottkov announced that the SPLT would be recognizing a new volunteer each year with the Tom Blake Leadership Award, and the first recipient, who was recognized at the meeting, was Blake himself.

“This award celebrates individuals whose leadership has enriched the entire community, whose contributions embody the visions of Tom Blake, founder of the Land Trust, demonstrated by his own life and work on behalf of the South Portland Land Trust,” said Rottkov.

“Both creating the award and choosing Tom as the first recipient was the SPLT’s way of acknowledging and thanking Tom for his lifelong dedication to the organization’s mission,” said Rottkov in an email. “Having worked alongside Tom since I became a board member in 2003, he has clearly been the lifeblood of the SPLT.”

Besides the Tom Blake Leadership award, new volunteer awards are under consideration, said Rottkov, but they have not been made official yet.

The land trust also nominated three new board members: Jessica Sobey, Eliabeth Morin, and Andrea McCall, who were voted in during the meeting.

Joanna Crispe, program manager for the SPLT, went over the amount of dedicated hours and volunteering that the members of the community did.

“We had 117 different volunteers this year dedicate almost 300 volunteer trail work hours,” she said. “This is really the way the trail work gets done, as you all know. I’ve seen many of you out there on the trails, so thank you for that. We had over 100 community members and donors. We’ve had more than that in the past, so if anyone is not a member of the land trust, membership starts at just $20 a year. We’re really a community-supported organization.”

Nine different companies had provided over $2,000 in sponsorship and donations, Crispe said.

Rottkov thanked the city of South Portland and community members for the help with this year’s Earth Week events, held during the week of April 20.

“This year we decided to have an Earth Week,” he said. “Largely because this is the first year in many years that Earth Day, in April, was during the time schools weren’t in sessions. We decided to do more with the schools. The land trust was part of dedication and everything around environmental preservation now climate change is a major theme that the land trust is looking at. So our goal this year was to involve the schools and activities.”

He said that students at South Portland High School helped the volunteers plant trees at the school, which are now the only trees on the renovated property.

“The highlight probably was the last event,” Rottkov was. “We organized a family-fun event out at the community center. That was fabulous, about a six- or seven-hour event, starting in the morning. A naturalist brought some Maine animals that were kid friendly, some they’d probably had never seen before. This year we’re planning to move ahead with an Earth Week, because this year is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. This is a special anniversary — we’re not sure what events we want to do. We know we’ll have a cleanup so we’re counting on you and many others to join us.”

Crispe and Rottkov also thanked Barbara Dow Nucci, who had donated land she had inherited from her mother several years ago. The ribbon cutting ceremony for the new Dow Trail was in August of this year.

“We held it in the afternoon, hoping it would be good for press, but we also had 80 people attend, so that’s great to see how much the community cares,” said Crispe.

Rottkov thanked the trust’s four committees, too, noting that the West End Trail Committee, which he called the most ambitious one, has been doing great work in protecting and preserving property in the West End area.

“We meet monthly,” he said. “If anyone’s interested in joining out four committees, let us know. Certainly, we’d welcome you.”

There was an interactive component to the meeting, where the audience discussed questions concerning the trust’s 2020 priorities — like, what the most pressing concerns were, how open spaces could be accessed by all communities and what members would like to see the SPLT focus on.

The officers for 2020 are Richard Rottkov president, Jeff Ryan, vice president, Chelsea Scudder, secretary and Susan Hasson, treasurer.

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