As an avid walker and outdoor enthusiast, I have gotten to know many of the natural areas in Windham and the surrounding communities. I am fortunate enough to have a long stretch of a dirt country road near my home, which is a significant part of my favorite walking route. I’m not alone in my love for Swett Road; many other nearby residents find themselves drawn to the natural beauty of the area, as well as the high degree of safety relative to other roadways.

Recently, on a walk on Swett Road, I happened upon the remains of three American goldfinches that had been hit by vehicles. This type of bird darts across open spaces from one patch of tall grasses to the next, and these particular individuals were perhaps unfortunate casualties of an ill-timed launch, or were startled vehicles.

When I saw these birds in the road, I recalled a conversation I’d had with a Popeville Road resident regarding the probable paving by the town of Swett Road. I made a quick phone call to the Windham Public Works department to inquire about the plans. The employee I spoke to let me know that, yes, in the future, there are plans to pave Swett Road and several other dirt roads throughout Windham. He then stipulated the exact timing was uncertain due to budget constrictions.

Any land conversation efforts in Windham should be opposed to paving Swett Road (and perhaps others) for several reasons. First, a significant part of the unpaved portion of Swett Road runs through substantial wetlands and a riparian area. These areas are home to diverse wildlife, and those tiny yellow birds I saw are a part of the larger ecosystem. If we’ve learned anything over the past few decades related to human activity and the natural world it is that we must endeavor to prevent human “development” from continuously pushing the natural world and its inhabitants to the margins. We ignore this task at our own peril. (As an example, consider the impact of the loss of pollinators like bats and bees on human food production.)

The second reason that paving Swett Road would be ill-conceived is that Windham currently has a glut of poorly paved roads with little to no shoulder for walkability and exercise. I live on Pope Road on the stretch between 302 and 202, which is often used as a shortcut by large trucks to avoid the roundabout where the two routes intersect. I am typically passed by a half dozen multi-axle vehicles when walking, so I traverse the land on the sides of the road,  the crumbling, non-existant shoulders, all to avoid going the way of those little yellow birds.

If Swett Road is paved, we will see less walkability, severe losses of wildlife in a beautiful wetland area, and a reduction in the quality of life for the residents who must listen to all the large trucks and other vehicles that will use it as a shortcut. Without question, there will be a majority of vehicles speeding (as occurs on Pope Road in straightaways), which will result in the mass deaths of amphibians, birds, and other woodland creatures that have taken refuge in that area, such as deer and opossums.

Windham must reconsider the intended benefits of paving Swett Road and others that run through areas worth conserving. We should fund better shoulders and sidewalks on already existing roads so that residents can walk more safely.

Maine’s  rapidly aging population, along with younger families, look to exercising in their local areas and neighborhoods as a way to stay healthy and enjoy the outdoors. If we have learned something from the current Pandemic that is relevant here, it is that reducing one’s risk factors for chronic disease is of the utmost importance to individual and community health. Exercise and connecting with nature should be a part of any wellness program, as there is ample evidence that both enhance human health.

— Special to the Press Herald

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