Portland Parks Conservancy director sees green opportunities

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PORTLAND — Nan Cumming’s new job is not exactly a walk in the park.

Yet as she prepares to become the new executive director of the fledgling Portland Parks Conservancy, she will be heading down some familiar paths.

“I read about it last fall when the idea was first put out there, and I thought with my background at Portland Trails, I am the person for that job,” Cumming said Nov. 23.

Now director of institutional advancement at the Maine Historical Society, Cumming will begin her new job Jan. 2, 2019. The Conservancy, incorporated in August 2017, is now in the process of obtaining its nonprofit status.

“It is exciting to me that we will be setting priorities and how to operate as we go,” she said.

The Conservancy was launched by the Elliotsville Plantation, which is part of the Quimby Family Foundation, as a way to help advocate and fund upkeep, maintenance and improvements in city parks. It has a 14-member board of directors.

“Nan brings a wealth of knowledge and experience in the nonprofit world, and, just as importantly, a real passion for the parks,” board President Andrew Magoun said of her appointment.

Cumming said the operating budget and priorities are not yet determined, but she expects a partnership with the city Parks, Recreation & Facilities Department as well as the numerous volunteer organizations dedicated to parks like Deering Oaks, Evergreen Cemetery and the Eastern Promenade.

Re-establishing a city parks department was a good step in renewing an emphasis on open space and recreation, Cumming said.

“You have to have really strong advocates within the city, they need to be in the leadership positions,” she said. “Having their own department really shows the city’s respect for that department.”

Cumming was executive director of Portland Trails from 1999-2011, and expects to work with the nonprofit again.

“Truly, I don’t want to compete with Portland Trails, I love them very much,” she said.

The city has 63 parks covering 721 acres, 24 Land Bank properties with 483 acres, and 104 acres in the Portland Trails Land Trust.

The Parks, Recreation & Facilities budget for this year is $11.2 million, increased from $10.13 million last year. The current capital improvements budget commits $822,700 in bonds for parks, fields and trails, with all but $150,000 earmarked for artificial turf replacement at Memorial Field.

Cumming said the Conservancy will be looking at future budgets, including capital improvements, to determine which projects might appeal to donors.

“If we can raise money for those things so city money can go to other needs like social services, I am ready to do that,” she said. “It is a great outcome.”

The Conservancy will also work with the Parks Commission and volunteer groups to see if it might lend a financial hand. Cumming said they will avoid competing with Portland Trails for fundraising.

“When it comes to raising dollars, most of it comes from individuals,” she said. “There are a lot of people moving to Portland because of the quality of life; those are the people I’d like to meet.”

With almost 80 percent of the city’s residents living within a half mile of a park or open space, and a wide variety of inland and shoreline public spaces, Cumming said the city is already in a good situation.

“They are not neglected, but they can be made better,” she said. “We have a huge advantage there, so in many ways, our opportunities are to make them better.”

David Harry can be reached at 780-9092 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Nan Cumming, soon to become executive director of the Portland Parks Conservancy, said Nov. 23 the city’s parks and open spaces are abundant and in good shape.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.