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Developers hope to stimulate interest, funding for Falmouth open space project

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Developers hope to stimulate interest, funding for Falmouth open space project

FALMOUTH — An event planned Sunday, Jan. 10, at Tidewater Farm promises to provide a glimpse of organizers' dreams for the development's 32 acres of open space.

Sunday's program, the first in a monthly series of educational and recreational entertainment events, is expected to attract all ages with a combination of GPS treasure hunts; animal paw print tracking; snow-shoeing basics and folklore, and cross-country skiing on groomed trails.

The afternoon will include hot drinks and refreshments around a bonfire and a chance to get out of the weather in the old barn. Everything is free of charge, provided by the Tidewater Conservation Foundation in collaboration with the Cumberland County Extension Association and the University of Maine Cooperative Extension.

Doug Babkirk, UMaine Extension associate director, said he hopes the events will stimulate community interest in the project and inspire individuals and businesses to contribute to the not-for-profit foundation's plans for a 6,800-square-foot Regional Learning Center on the five-acre conservation easement site.

Through a partnership between the town and the foundation, the center is designed to be a hub of teaching and learning about sustainable agriculture and horticulture through UMaine Extension programs and degree programs offered by Southern Maine Community College. It will also offer public access to demonstration and community gardens, meeting spaces, kayaking and walking trails. In addition, SMCC intends to use the facilities for its degree program in culinary arts.

According to Babkirk, nothing in Maine comes close to offering what the foundation has planned for Tidewater Farm. With views of the Presumpscot River Estuary and a varied landscape of meadow, wetland, wooded area, tidal salt marsh and apple orchard, the property gives the community a venue where education, recreation and entertainment converge, he said.

The property is 10 minutes from downtown Portland and is accessible by public transportation.The new structure will be Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-certified.

But donations to fund the $1.9 million learning center have not yet reached the level the foundation anticipated several years ago, Babkirk said. His office has found that many potential donors who are enthusiastic about the facility have said they are unable to donate now because of the economy.

The UMaine Extension, the center's primary tenant, has contributed $400,000, and donations from Oakhurst Dairy, Bangor Savings Bank, Newman's Own Foundation, Hannaford Bros. and private donors total an additional $400,000. The extension's funding has not been affected by reported financial problems within the university system because the money is separate from the university system's base budget funds and was dedicated to the project several years ago, Babkirk said.

The foundation hopes to begin the project this summer, but needs to reach the $1.6 million mark to break ground, he said.

Though the push thus far was behind the scenes, targeting larger, corporate sponsors, the extension is looking now toward becoming more public and involving the community more directly in its fundraising efforts. A mailer advertising Sunday's event was sent to Falmouth households last week. And in February, the extension will host a neighborhood meeting to educate residents about the project and to solicit their support.

Future events may include instructional programs on community gardening and farmers markets, green landscaping, healthy foods, the farm and estuary and potluck suppers, as well as UMaine speakers on current issues and arts and cultural events.

Sunday's activities are scheduled from 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.. Participants must supply their own snowshoes and cross-country skis, Babkirk said. All other equipment will be provided. For more information, visit the Web site at extension.umaine.edu/tidewater/default.htm or call 780-4213.

Peggy Roberts can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or proberts@theforecaster.net.