Public easement will create South Portland nature preserve

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SOUTH PORTLAND — City councilors at a workshop Monday decided to allocate $140,000 from the city’s Land Bank Account to establish a public easement on a portion of Dow’s Woods that is about to be developed.

The allocation, which will be formally voted on at the Dec. 9 council meeting, comes in the wake of a proposal by Portland developer H.W. Land Co. to construct 15 residences in multi-family buildings on nearly 12 acres, including 9.3 acres in Dow’s Woods.

In a desire to protect and conserve what is believed to be one of the last untouched woodland parcels in the city, residents and councilors have recently vetted the idea of using Land Bank Funds for an easement. Buying the parcel outright for approximately $300,000 – more than double the cost of the easement – has also been considered.

At the Nov. 23 workshop, City Manager Jim Gailey recommended the council opt for the easement. That will be a less tedious process and have virtually the same effect as if the city decided to buy the land, because it would be preserved and controlled by the South Portland Land Trust, Gailey said.

“We’re really no further ahead of ourselves and a couple dollars lighter if we went in the direction of trying to purchase this parcel outright,” Gailey said. Even with the easement, “we have control of this parcel and have it available for the enjoyment of South Portland residents,” he added.

The parcel would be called Dow’s Woods Nature Preserve, and include four parking spaces for the public. Even though it would be available to the public, it would be protected like a sanctuary: Dow family heirs have requested that no bicycles or dogs be allowed on the land, according to Gailey’s memo.

In the city’s Open Space Strategic Plan, adopted in 2001, 23 parcels  in need of preservation were identified due to their ecosystems and wildlife habitat. According to the developer’s proposal for an easement, Dow’s Woods, at 590 Highland Ave., is fourth on that list.

Earlier this summer, councilors began the process again of discerning viable open space in the city that could potentially be protected, which eventually will mean writing a new open space philosophy.

Cindy Krum, program director for the South Portland Land Trust, told councilors Monday that Dow’s Woods is home to some 14 species of animals that should be protected, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Several of the 14 species are birds or waterbirds, and include the Canadian warbler, American black duck, little blue heron and the solitary sandpiper.

Krum also said she and others from the trust found no invasive plants in the area, which is another reason to ban dogs. “We don’t want to be bringing in invasives on the fur or somehow threatening the property, she said. “This really is a special property.”

Councilor Claude Morgan said the city is in an unusual position with this easement acquisition as a “benevolent holder” of the land.

Mayor Linda Cohen said, “I’m thinking now, with everything going on in the world, it would be really nice to have a place in South Portland where people could just go walk, without dogs or bikes.”

Alex Acquisto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow Alex on Twitter: @AcquistoA.

South Portland and Scarborough reporter for The Forecaster. Graduate of Western Kentucky University and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. Alex can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106.