Chris Cabot has seen the Chebeague & Cumberland Land Trust through a busy time since becoming its executive director last September. Alex Lear / The Forecaster

CUMBERLAND — The Chebeague & Cumberland Land Trust has been particularly busy since Chris Cabot took the reins last September.

Hired as the organization’s executive director and first full-time staffer last September, the North Yarmouth resident has since overseen three major protection projects. The trust in October accepted a 40-acre conservation easement for Greely Woods, which consists of a trail network amid three adjoining, undeveloped town-owned parcels, bordered by Greely Road Extension to the north and Sparhawk Lane to the east, near Main Street.

The following month, the trust completed an easement for a 52-acre property adjacent to Rines Forest, expanding that protected town-owned parcel to about 268 acres.

“This project significantly enhances the Rines Forest by protecting important wildlife habitat and expands an extensive recreational trail network for snowmobilers, mountain bikers and hikers,” Cabot said last week.

And on the final day of 2019, the land trust accepted the Chandler Preserve, a 9.6-acre property donated by Toby and Stacie Webb, which constitutes the first parcel the organization owns completely on Chebeague Island, although it has protected others there through conservation easements.

The trust has conserved 884.5 acres of Cumberland’s total of 14,643 and 122.9 acres of Chebeague’s total of 2,278, for a total of 1,007.4 acres, Cabot reported. That makes 6.04% in Cumberland and 5.39% in Chebeague – 5.95% of the two towns’ total acreage.

Maine has more than 80 land trusts, which have conserved more than 2.5 million acres, or 12% of the state, according to the Maine Land Trust Network.

“We in southern Maine are lagging behind the rest of the state in terms of acreage protected; there are some big tracts of land up in northern Maine that have been protected, that skew those numbers a bit,” Cabot said.

With the start of a new year, the Cumberland-based trust is working to protect 25.7 acres of Greely Road land the town is selling to Spring Brook Farm operator Jeff Storey. This year marks two centuries since the farm was started by the Blanchard family.

Of the $225,000 purchase price, Storey is paying $30,000, with the Chebeague & Cumberland Land Trust and Maine Farmland Trust planning to contribute the balance. The trusts still need to raise about $8,000 in contributions.

“Financial support is very key to us,” Cabot said.

The trusts’ participation is “a tool to protect the land, but also an affordability tool to allow farmers to continue to own that property,” Cabot said.

It was in Cabot’s former capacity as a farmland protection specialist for Maine Farmland Trust that he came to work with Penny Asherman, the land trust’s board president, and ultimately came to join that organization.

“I was excited about the job, because it’s a great organization,” Cabot said, expressing his enthusiasm about doing conservation work in his own community. “It’s an exciting time for conservation, and an important time for this area, because of the population expansion that we’re experiencing.”

“The pace of the development pressure in this area is daunting,” he said. “We need to work hard to protect the special places of Cumberland so future growth is appropriately sited.”

On Chebeague, where the land trust is working with landowners to preserve key parcels and historic trails, “it’s a similar story, but with unique challenges and opportunities,” Cabot said. “We want to continue to support the island’s natural resources, wildlife habitat and recreation in a way that is aligned with the town’s long-term goals.”

Chebeague Island seceded from Cumberland in 2007, 20 years after the land trust formed.

In protecting land, it’s critical to conserve the right types, Town Manager Bill Shane said Jan. 10. The land trust, and the town and its Conservation Commission, have collaborated to determine what to prioritize: connectivity, habitat corridors and public access to usable open space land.

“We were able to put together pieces of land that have connectivity to trails (and) other communities, and actually are pretty special open spaces,” Shane said. The goals of an open space plan established in the 1990s, such as ocean access at Broad Cove Reserve, inland water access at Knight’s Pond and significant forest preservation, have largely been achieved.

Shane praised the current Town Council’s work to that end.

“I think their legacy will be in the protection and acquisition of open space for the foreseeable future,” he said.

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