2018-02-23 / Letters

South Portland and Maine benefit from land trusts

To the editor:

A once-vacant lot at the corner of Main and Westbrook streets is now regularly occupied by children playing in South Portland’s newest park. That lot could have remained vacant or it could have developed much like the other properties along that gateway stretch of Main Street, but thanks to the work of South Portland Land Trust, the city of South Portland and Congregation Bet Ha’am, what we now call Sawyer Park is now part of the neighborhood’s fabric, a place for people to gather, play, and connect.

Partnerships and projects like Sawyer Park are just some of the many ways in which Maine land trusts contribute to their communities. Land trusts have been receiving much scrutiny lately and the public debate is plagued by speculation and misinformation. The purpose of this letter is to offer more information to that conversation.

South Portland Land Trust is a nonprofit organization committed to linking neighborhoods and improving quality of life in South Portland through expanding the city’s trail network, conserving open space and educating the public on issues related to trails and open space. It holds 18 properties and easements within the city of South Portland to preserve natural habitats, trail access and open space for public enjoyment.

In addition to providing support and funding for the Sawyer Park project, South Portland Land Trust is engaging with the National Park Service to expand the trail network in the western part of the city. While there has been significant development in this part of South Portland, trail and sidewalk construction has not kept pace, making this area far less friendly for pedestrians and cyclists. South Portland Land Trust hosts regular “Get to Know Your Trails” events to connect residents with open spaces in their neighborhoods and with each other. Our annual trail maintenance and Earth Day events encourage South Portlanders to participate in the care for our local public lands and the planet.

In 2017, the Maine Land Trust Network conducted a survey of the state’s land trust organizations to provide a more accurate picture of land trusts’ value for policymakers and the public. The data and information collected has been revealing.

Thanks to Maine’s network of 80 land trusts, other regions of the state are seeing similar benefits as South Portland. Lands conserved by Maine land trusts offer recreational opportunities that rival those offered at state and federal parks and are usually free to all. Maine residents and visitors alike will find the following amenities on Maine land trust conserved properties:

 Hikers will find more than 1,250 miles of trails. These range from family friendly nature paths to more rugged routes ending atop wind-swept summits, and everything in between.

 Outdoor recreationalists can enjoy more than 275 miles of mountain bike trails, 345 miles of ATV trails, and 570 miles of snowmobile trails.

 Families are invited to discover more than 200 beaches offering opportunities to swim, picnic, and observe wildlife.

 Water enthusiasts can launch a canoe or kayak at more than 60 saltwater and 140 freshwater boat launch sites, provided and maintained by land trusts.

And, believe it or not, more than 90 percent of all lands conserved by Maine land trusts are open to hunting. In other words, more than 2.3 million acres – 10 percent of the state.

These land trust protected properties are especially critical in Maine, a state that continues to lag well behind others when it comes to public lands available for outdoor recreation. In fact, Maine has the lowest percentage of public lands (6.5 percent of the state) of any state east of the Appalachian Mountains. By comparison, more than 17 percent of New Hampshire is publicly owned. And, in Florida, one in every four acres is conservation land owned by the public.

These properties indirectly generate tax revenue by supporting local economies through the protection of more than 2.1 million acres of working forests, 36,000 acres of productive farmland, and 60 access sites for marine fishermen, wormers, and clammers. Land trust lands are also popular destinations for visitors, strengthening the tourism sector, the state’s largest industry.

Land trusts in Maine connect neighbors, educate children, inspire visitors, and offer myriad recreational and economic opportunities to Mainers. To learn more about the SPLT’s work, visit www.southportlandlandtrust.org. For more information on land trusts, visit www.mltn.org. While there, check out “Land Trusts Work for Maine.” The culmination of the 2017 survey, this 12-page report outlines ways in which land trusts are strengthening Maine’s economy and enhancing our communities.

Dugan Murphy, program manager South Portland Land Trust

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