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Harpswell considers grazing horses at Mitchell Field

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Harpswell considers grazing horses at Mitchell Field

HARPSWELL — Town officials are mulling a proposal from a local farmer to take over maintenance of the upper meadow at Mitchell Field in exchange for using the land for agriculture purposes. 

Selectmen, at their meeting last week, said they were excited about the plan put forward by Jim Cornish.

But members of the Mitchell Field Committee have expressed concern about the proposal, specifically opposing his plan to graze horses on the meadow. A special committee meeting is scheduled for June 16 to discuss the issue.

The Mitchell Field Master Plan, approved by voters in 2007, calls for the property's 20-acre upper meadow to remain open and undeveloped. But weeds and brush need to be removed to prevent the meadow from reverting to woodland. 

In exchange for removing the brush and invasive plants, Cornish would like to pasture his four Belgian draft horses and grow grain and other crops on the property.

"Those fields don't have any hay on them worth taking, they've been neglected for way too long," he said in an interview Tuesday.

Cornish is director of the Stone Soup Institute, a Harpswell-based education center focused on teaching sustainable forms of farming, construction, logging and other skills.

The addition of grazing horses, and horse manure, could return the meadow to a condition where hay can be harvested in three to five years, according to Cornish. The proposal, if adopted, would only be effective for a one-year trial.

But the scheme doesn't please everyone.

Committee Chairman Rob Roark, in an interview last week, said pasturing horses or farm animals on the meadow is incompatible with its intended use under the master plan as an area for low-impact public recreation. The area already is a popular dog-walking location.

"Particularly with the dogs, we didn't think that was a very good mix with livestock," Roark said. 

Cornish said he does not believe dogs will be an issue, and intends to fence off the upper meadow for his horses. The park already has leash rules, and if people want to allow their dogs off-leash they can do so in another part of the 119-acre park, he said.

At least two selectmen support Cornish's proposal.

"I personally think it's a great idea," Selectman Kevin Thompson said at last week's meeting. He noted that Cornish is familiar with the upper meadow and that others have refused to risk damage to their equipment by mowing the field.

"I know Jim has been down there talking with regular dog walkers and they all seem in favor of it," Thompson said. "It'd be nice to see the horses walking around down there. It's a wasted space."

Chairman Rick Daniel said he also liked Cornish's proposal, but was concerned about the Mitchell Field Committee's reaction to it.

Selectwoman Elinor Multer agreed. 

"I'd like them to get this worked out so we're not in a position of having to override the committee," Multer said.

Road borrowing

In other business last week, selectmen authorized a request for proposals for a $600,000 bond package to fund construction on 10 town roads. The total estimated interest on a 10-year bond is $66,700.

In March, voters authorized selectmen to borrow the money, which will be added to $694,000 in capital reserves the town intends to apply to the project. 

The new borrowing will push the town's total outstanding debt to more than $3.4 million.

Crews are expected to complete work started last year on Bethel Point, Long Point, Wharf, Shore Acres and Thompson roads and to finalize a stabilization project on the north end of Long Point Road. 

Remaining funding will be put toward beginning work on Bayview and Abner Point roads and Washington Avenue. 

Peter L. McGuire can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or pmcguire@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter @mcguiremidcoast.