Survey: Easy access to open space key for Falmouth

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FALMOUTH — The vast majority of those who responded to a recent town survey said they’re pleased with the amount of open space, but would like to see even more conservation land.

In addition, respondents also said there’s a need for more education and outreach about the open spaces, particularly where they’re located, how to access them and the types of uses allowed.

Theo Holtwijk, the town’s director of long-range planning and economic development, said the survey results would be used to help update the Greening of Falmouth plan, which is now more than 10 years old.

In a prior interview, Holtwijk said the goal behind updating the plan is to “take stock of our accomplishments and chart the course for the next decade.”

In all, 458 responses were received to the online survey. Holtwijk admitted this week that because “we’re dealing with a self-selected group, there’s likely some bias.”

Even so, he said the Long Range Planning Committee, which is tasked with updating the open space plan, was “very pleased with the number of responses (and) we’re always impressed with how engaged people are and with the thoughtfulness of their responses.”

With this survey, Holtwijk said the town was also careful to reach out to Falmouth’s youth and encourage them to take part. “We believe open space matters to people of all ages, so we were pleased to get a nice cross-section of people.”

Holtwijk said the Long Range Planning Committee is very close to completing a draft open space plan that could be ready for public input as early as next month. The committee would then hope to present a final plan to the Town Council sometime in May or June, he said.

When specifically asked what the town could do better to achieve its open space goals, there were a variety of answers, according to Holtwijk, with many mentioning the need for better education and outreach.

A high number suggested that the town limit the use of toxic pesticides, something the Conservation Commission is already studying. Other suggestions included more sidewalks and setting aside more funding for land acquisition.

The survey also asked residents what would improve their scoring of the town’s open spaces, and several raised the idea of a community pool, which Holtwijk said comes up every now and again.

However, he said the new open space plan would focus more on conservation efforts and less on recreational-type facilities. Although Holtwijk said looking at recreational needs, from ballfields to playgrounds, might be the next logical step for town leaders to consider.

Most people answered the scoring question with a positive response, such as “Just keep doing what you’re doing and add more space” or “No improvement is needed. Falmouth open space is ample and humming along just fine.”

Overall the extensive open space available in Falmouth ranks high in the reasons why people chose the town as a place to live, with the schools being the No. 1 reason, according to the survey results.

Dog walking, bird watching and the chance to “seek quietude and communion with the outdoors” were all top reasons that residents regularly access the town’s open space, the survey said.

When asked about the benefits of preserving open space, respondents highly ranked keeping the town’s rural character and the chance to connect with nature. They also said undeveloped natural areas and easy access to walking trails is important for health and wellness.

While most respondents were not familiar with the Greening of Falmouth plan, they also said the town has done a good job in protecting Falmouth’s natural resources and open spaces.

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

A group sets out on a guided walk at Falmouth’s Blackstrap Hill Preserve.

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