The developers of the former Scarborough Downs harness racing facility have donated 25 acres of forest and wetlands to the Scarborough Land Trust, a move that expands the Warren Woods Preserve on Payne Road to more than 250 acres.

The gifted land is located on the west side of The Downs, a $621 million mixed-use redevelopment project that stretches across 524 acres from Payne Road to Route 1.

The donation is part of the developers’ plan to create a new town center at The Downs, including a variety of residential, commercial and recreational uses.

“It has always been a really important part of our master plan to preserve conservation land, maintain green space and create connectedness between The Downs and Scarborough’s existing trail system,” developer Roccy Risbara said. “This donation of land accomplishes all of those goals.”

The gift also helps the developers fulfill environmental requirements with state and federal regulators.

Warren Woods was established in 2012, when the land trust purchased 162 acres off Payne Road. The trust added 55 acres last year and 16.5 acres in March. The preserve now encompasses 258.5 acres, including land on both sides of Payne Road.

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“Warren Woods is an amazing wilderness right in the middle of Scarborough and right next door to The Downs,” said Andrew Mackie, executive director of the land trust. “We are very excited about this generous donation because it not only expands public access, but it also means that Scarborough’s natural resources will be forever protected.”

Mackie said the land trust plans to develop trails on the donated property, but much of it will remain undisturbed to preserve wildlife habitat and protect the Nonesuch River watershed.

The Risbara and Michaud brothers bought the racetrack and surrounding land in 2018. Since then, they have developed more than 475 housing units at The Downs, including single-family homes, duplexes, condominiums, apartments, affordable senior apartments and a memory care facility. They’re also developing a business innovation district, a downtown district and recreational parks and trails.

The Downs developers plan to connect to the trail network in Warren Woods to promote public access to both properties. One trailhead with parking and benches has been completed and another will be built next year by IDEXX.

“When the trails are complete, you could go all the way from Route 1 to Payne Road on recreational paths,” Mackie said.

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