CUMBERLAND — The Town Council on Monday unanimously supported efforts to obtain a grant that would help acquire and preserve a nearly $1 million, 215-acre parcel of undeveloped land in Cumberland and North Yarmouth.
Penny Asherman, president of the Chebeague & Cumberland Land Trust, and Gregg Caporossi, project manager with the Trust for Public Land, approached the council about endorsing the $300,000 grant application to Land for Maine’s Future.
CCLT has an option on Knight’s Pond and Blueberry Hill, a mostly forested tract off Greely Road Extension, owned by Rebecca Leland Swigget. Most of the property is in Cumberland, while 50 acres is in North Yarmouth, and the land has a network of recreational trails and is near both town centers, Asherman said.
With opportunities for hunting, fishing, trapping, hiking, running, mountain biking, skiing, snowshoeing, canoeing and kayaking, the land is “a great destination point,” she said. “I go with my kids and my dog, and we can hike up Blueberry Hill, across the ridge, down to the pond and back.”
Land for Maine’s Future has about $10 million in funding available, $7 million of which is for conservation and recreational purposes, Asherman said.
The grant application is due Friday.
“It is a very competitive process, but we thought it was really important to … take a shot at it, because this is a great project, and this is the type of thing that they have funded in the past,” Asherman said, adding that the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands is sponsoring the application, and many community members and businesses also have expressed support.
Caporossi said the Trust for Public Land’s role is to facilitate the transaction, and that the organization holds the option to purchase the property at fair market value.
He and Asherman are requesting that Cumberland own the part of the parcel within its borders, subject to a conservation easement held by CCLT. North Yarmouth could do the same for its 50 acres, subject to a Royal River Conservation Trust easement.
“In the coming weeks, we will be having these same conversations with your neighbors in North Yarmouth,” Caporossi said.
The town has set aside up to $300,000 in Open Space Acquisition reserves to buy the property, and will hold a public hearing to hear input from residents about spending the money and assuming ownership of the property.
Should CCLT not be able to raise the additional approximately $650,000 to buy the tract, “the monies can remain in place for future open space acquisition or transferred by order of the Town Council to anything from property tax relief to any other Capital Reserve fund or specific project,” Town Manager Bill Shane told the council in a memo last May.
A public hearing could be held in Cumberland in November, and North Yarmouth’s part of the purchase could be discussed at its Town Meeting in April 2015. The option period for the property expires in May 2015.
“The Town of Cumberland is pleased to work with the Town of North Yarmouth, Chebeague & Cumberland Land Trust, Royal River Conservation Trust, and Trust for Public Land to purchase this outstanding property,” according to the March 24 letter, written by Shane.
The property “is the largest undeveloped tract of privately owned land in Cumberland – providing both excellent wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities for area residents,” the letter said. “Protection of this key property has been a priority for many years and we are excited to have an opportunity to conserve it for all to enjoy.”
The council OK’d issuing the letter of support “in principle,” as suggested by Councilor George Turner. He said “there are a lot of questions still to be answered, as far as what the responsibilities of the town are going to be, etc., etc., and I know that’s going to be vetted over a period of time.”