The Falmouth Land Trust has until the end of September to raise $250,000 to purchase Underwood Springs.

FALMOUTH — Faced with a September deadline, fundraising by the Falmouth Land Trust to purchase Underwood Springs Forest is nearing the three-quarter mark, and two local residents have pitched in to encourage others to donate.

Volunter Magnus Gehrke ,13, poses with a sign supporting the 52-acre planned preservation, Underwood Springs Forest, which has over $200,000 to raise by Sept. Courtesy photo

Plans to buy the $830,000 property took off in February. The town had earmarked $200,000 for the project, but pulled the funding due to financial strains caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and uncertainty about the town’s financial future.

The trust has raised $580,000 but $250,000 more is needed as  a pair of anonymous donors have now pitched in $25,000 each as challenge grants.

“The donors are residents of Falmouth, and neither of them live within a mile of this property,” said Jennifer Grimm, director of the Falmouth Land Trust. “They are just people who people who feel strongly about conservation and this project and hope that this will help.” 

The trust has hit a few bumps in fundraising efforts since the project kicked off, in light of financial strains caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We also slowed down in asking people and reaching out, given how many people were unsure of their finances and work with the pandemic,” Grimm said.

Considering the deadline to buy the property is the end of September, Grimm is no longer “counting on the town contribution,” and has been looking for alternative funding sources. She hopes the anonymous donors will inspire more support. Up to $50,000 donated by residents will be matched by the donors, Grimm said.

If enough money isn’t raised by the deadline, the sale will go public.

“If that happens, our only play is to ask for more time, but the seller has already been generous with extending the deadline,” Grimm said.

Grimm said the trust cannot buy just a portion of the parcel, as grant funding based on the land’s ecological value and preservation counts on protecting the entire preserve, and doing so would cause funding to “unravel.”

The owner, Don Hincks, initially asked for $1.9 million for the parcel, Grimm said previously, so this current opportunity is a “bargain.”

[mtm-related-linkurl=”https://www.pressherald.com/2020/04/21/falmouth-postpones-200k-donation-toward-land-trust-purchase/”]Read more about postponement to town funding[/mtm-related-link]

The land bordered by Route 1 and the Underwood Road area. Trails in the preserve would connect to the Woodman trail, a 6.6 acre preserve off  Johnson Road, as well as a number of informal trails that run throughout wooded areas of town, Grimm said.

“This could extend the trail network in the most densely populated part in town,” Grimm said. “The number I came up with was 700 households within three quarters of a mile of this property, so a lot of residents could have access to this.”

Plans do not call for handicap accessible trails, but donations that come after the land is bought will go towards infrastructure to make the trails accessible and ADA complaint.

“How much we can put into ADA accessibility will depend on funding, it’s in the next phase of funding, and we will go after some grants for that as well, but we are focused right now on the acquisition,” Grimm said.

On top of accessibility to homes, the preserve also would protect important parts of the ecosystem, Grimm said.

Notable features include Norton Brook, which feeds into Mill Creek before it empties into Casco Bay. The brook and water system support a run of rainbow smelt and soft shell clam and mussel beds, as well as bird habitats.

“This project will help to protect water quality in a small coastal watershed with state‐documented aquatic habitat values,” said Matt Craig of Casco Bay Estuary Partnership, which is working to conserve all of Casco Bay.

“The parcel’s conservation value may appear compromised owing to its proximity to U.S. Route 1. However, the coastal watershed downstream contains considerable habitat
values,” he said.

“Not only is it important to protect local ecosystems in their own right, we know that there are immense health benefits to spending time in nature,” said Falmouth resident Lesley Gordon, a doctor with Maine Health.

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