Windham officials and the Presumpscot Regional Land Trust have plans in the works for a 600-acre park with trails, continued hunting access, 40 acres of wetlands and an observation tower.

If the project off Falmouth Road is realized, with an opening goal of 2023, the parcel would be one of the largest conservation projects in the Greater Portland area.

“This regionally significant 600-acre conservation project, once protected, will become part of a nearly 2,000-acre contiguously conserved land area connecting with Lowell Preserve, North Falmouth Community Forest and Blackstrap Hill Preserve, providing an unfragmented forest habitat corridor of exceptional size,” said Rachelle Curran Apse, executive director of the land trust.

The land on the east side of town includes 1,545 feet of frontage along Little Duck Pond and 1,500 feet of unspecified stream frontage. The parcel is next to the 300-acre Lowell Preserve, which is owned by the town and conserved by the land trust. The proposed conservation includes Atherton Hill, which, at nearly 600 feet, is the largest hill in Windham.  In addition, nearly 25% of the land is identified by the state as a significant deer wintering area.

The project comes with a $3 million price tag, which would need to be raised through local, state, federal and private funding sources,   Curran Apse said.  The $3 million would be used to buy the land, build trails and recreational amenities, and pay for long-term stewardship of the land and wildlife, Windham Town Council Chairperson David Nadeau said in a press release.

While it’s still early in the planning stages, the project hopes to include new trails for walkers, bikers, snowmobilers and ATVers along with a handicapped accessible trail through the woods and access to Little Duck Pond. An observation tower at the top of Atherton Hill would provide views of Mount Washington and the Atlantic Ocean.

Amid concerns about the pace of development and lack of protected open space, the town of Windham has recently completed its first Open Space Plan and “this project meets the criteria,” said Windham Town Manager Barry Tibbetts in a prepared release.

The Open Space Plan prioritizes permanently conserving areas to provide and outdoor recreation and wide open spaces in perpetuity. Currently, 14% of the Casco Bay Watershed (which includes Greater Portland and the area around Sebago Lake) is permanently conserved, while only 4% of Windham is conserved, according to the release.

In its plan to set aside open space, Windham has prioritized conserving the last remaining large scale forested lands in east Windham, which includes the Highland Lake, Forest Lake and Pleasant River watersheds.

Once protected, it will be one of the largest tracts of conservation land in Greater Portland and therefore “a project of regional significance,” Curran Apse said.

The town and the land trust will be applying for state funding through the Land for Maine’s Future program, federal funding through the U.S. Forest Service Community Forest Program and other private grants. Curran Apse said the town will also invest in the project and seek state funding, but did not specify how much Windham would be willing to invest or what type of fundraising will be done.

Curran Apse did not respond to a question about who is selling the land and for how much by the Lakes Region Weekly’s deadline.

The town and the land trust hope to have the park completed and open to the public by spring 2023.

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