Falmouth conservation plan likely to include more open spaces

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FALMOUTH — The town’s updated open space plan calls for establishing an annual acquisition fund of $500,000 and recognizing the need to maintain a balance between growth and preservation of undeveloped land.

It’s now up to the Town Council to decide whether to adopt the plan. It was presented to councilors Oct. 10.

“This plan is a real reflection of our goals for open space and land use and is an excellent product,” Council Chairman Caleb Hemphill said. “I look forward to the council doing more review and formally adopting” it.

“This is a great report and shows how thoroughly (the committee) thought about the role open space plays in our lives,” Councilor Claudia King added.

Councilor Ted Asherman commended the plan “as an excellent product.”

Sam Rudman chaired the committee charged with updating the open space plan, which was first created in 2006.

The committee, known as the Long Range Planning Advisory Committee Plus, met 29 times, Rudman said, and its work was informed by visiting every open space site around town, analyzing town maps and zoning boundaries, and evaluating the town’s prior achievements.

According to Rudman, in the 10 years between 2006 and 2016, the town spent nearly $6 million in acquiring open space. That money included a variety of grants, as well as town funds and private donations.

Also in that 10-year period, the town expanded the amount of overall open space to 2,544 acres, a 219 percent increase, and significantly increased the number of pedestrian trails, which jumped in length from 8.4 to 49 miles.

Rudman said the updated plan is designed to guide the acquisition and management of open space over the next 10 years. There are also six key goals identified in the plan, including prioritizing education and outreach.

“This is a really important goal,” he said. “We need to educate the public about the presence, function and value of open space.”

Along with the seven members of LPAC, the open space plan update group also included members from the Land Management and Acquisitions Committee, the Conservation Commission, the Falmouth Land Trust and Amanda Stearns, Falmouth’s new open space manager.

“This plan is forward-looking and builds on past success,” Rudman told councilors last week. “It’s advisory, but we hope the council will accept the plan and its overall vision and goals.”

He said the LPAC Plus group also wants the council to “carefully consider the recommended action items because we spent a lot of time working on them.”

Overall, according to Rudman, “the public cares very deeply about preserving open space in Falmouth.”

“This plan acknowledges that population growth and development will likely continue in Falmouth,” the executive summary reads, but “in order to protect the health, values and character of our community … it is crucial to maintain a balance between managed growth and strategic preservation and management of open space.”

The six plan goals are protection of natural resources and open spaces, providing a range of open spaces and experiences for a diverse population, ensuring that protected open spaces are available throughout the entire town, utilizing open space acquisition as a growth management tool, ensuring the utility and longevity of open spaces through good management and educating the public.

Priority open spaces, the plan says, include waterfront and water access areas, as well as active farmland and viable timberland in order to conserve “resilient and adaptable ecosystems” that could help the town better adjust to climate change, sea level rise and other threats to critical plant, animal and human habitats.

In terms of education, the plan calls for the creation of a “communication and outreach strategy (with) improved graphic materials that depict the range of open space locations and uses” available in town.

On the whole, the plan recognizes that “all types of open spaces are important to the well-being of the community.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

Falmouth’s open spaces also serve as open-air classrooms for local students.

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