Falmouth open-space pioneer honored for decade of service

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FALMOUTH — During Bob Shafto’s 10 years as the town’s open space ombudsman, he’s helped Falmouth acquire more than 1,000 acres of open space, brought in millions in grant funding and overseen construction of almost 50 miles of walking trails.

Shafto is retiring from his post, but his commitment to open space will continue. With his new-found free time he said he plans to volunteer with the Falmouth Conservation Corps, as well as “do a lot more” camping, canoeing, backpacking, bicycling, kayaking and gardening.”

Shafto’s accomplishments as the open space ombudsman were recognized at the Nov. 13 Town Council meeting, when a resolution honoring him was read and signed and he received a framed photograph of one of his favorite spots in town.

Also at the meeting were Ted Asherman, chairman of the town’s Land Management & Acquisitions Committee; David Gagnon, a long-time friend of Shafto’s who also serves on the land committee, and state Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, who represents District 25.

“The Town Council proclaims its appreciation for Robert G. ‘Bob’ Shafto’s work in conservation and open space planning and management and recognizes that his work will forever impact the town’s character and culture as a unique and lasting gift,” the resolution said in part.

Shafto and his wife, India, who now spend the winter in Chattanooga, Tennessee, have lived in Falmouth for the past 25 years. During that time he’s served as president of the Falmouth Land Trust, as well as chairman of the Conservation Commission.

“I’ve lived in six Maine counties and seven different towns,” he said in an interview. “They were all great places, but Falmouth has been the best of all.”

Shafto has a bachelor’s degree in wildlife biology and, after teaching science, he founded a statewide nonprofit focused on supporting innovation in Maine schools.

His first experience with land conservation was when he and his wife decided to donate 14 acres of property to the Blackstrap Hill Preserve in 2000. While leading the Conservation Commission, he also took a lead role in creating the town’s first Greening of Falmouth plan.

“We knew that successful implementation required a boots-on-the-ground person – someone to work with the town, landowners, and the land trust,” Shafto said. So the Town Council agreed to fund the open space ombudsman position.

“At that point, I was ready for a career change and was (also) deeply committed to seeing the plan through to fruition,” he said, which is how he was named to the post.

Shafto said open space preservation is important to him personally because he grew up in a small town in New Jersey that was surrounded by forest and rich farmland. “By the time I left (for college),” he recalled, “most of the town and surrounding countryside was on its way to being fully developed.”

“Now,” Shafto said, “the traffic is terrible, taxes are sky high, and the quality of life is much lower. As a first-ring suburb of Portland, much the same thing could happen here (and) I want to do my part to keep that from happening.

“I also think it’s very important that we balance development with land conservation. These properties aren’t just recreation areas. They also play a vital role in improving air quality, providing wildlife habitat, sequestering carbon, protecting water quality, controlling flooding, and providing a wide range of other ecological services essential to our health and welfare,” he said.

He added that none of of his success would have happened without the efforts of other people, including town councilors, staff, and especially scores of volunteers who help build and maintain trails.

Falmouth is now working on updating its open space plan, and Shafto said what he’d like to see included is “a continuation of the current plan’s goals and objectives, with a greater emphasis on getting people more aware of … and out onto, the properties themselves.”

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

Bob Shafto, center, Falmouth’s long-time open space ombudsman, is honored for his work at the Nov. 13 Town Council meeting. From left are Ted Asherman, Dave Gagnon, Director of Parks and Community Programs Lucky D’Ascanio, Shafto, Town Council Chairman Caleb Hemphill, Town Manager Nathan Poore and state Sen. Cathy Breen.