Work continues to identify, protect Portland's open space

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PORTLAND — Belmeade Park sits across Baxter Boulevard from the Back Cove Trail, filling less than a city block.

But size does not matter in the city Open Space Vision & Implementation Plan, which continued to take shape at an Aug. 5 City Hall meeting.

“Portland parks are pretty good, we have good bones to build from. How do we want to do it and how do we do it most effectively?,” Wolfe Tone, executive director of the state chapter of the Trust for Public Lands, said Aug. 7.

Tone and the trust are at the forefront of a collaboration that has lasted more than a year with the city and Portland Trails. He estimated the process is two-thirds of the way to creating a management plan that would also suggest ways to maximize outside funding opportunities.

So far, four public meetings have been held, and a Portland Parks Open Space Committee comprised of city staff and residents has been formed.

“We are not there yet, we are not finished,” Tone said. “We are going to go into the fall with this. Not all the information or conclusions are in.”

The process began in July 2014, when Portland Trails received an $18,000 grant from the city-based Lerner Foundation to fund an assessment and inventory of city-owned public spaces.

But Portland Trails Executive Director Kara Wooldrik said Aug. 7 it was actually an opportunity to combine several efforts at a time when the future of open spaces, such as Congress Square, was at the forefront of public debate.

“We knew we were doing similar things and thought it can go better if we do this one big thing,” Wooldrik said.

Portland Trails used the grant to fund public outreach and engagement, Wooldrik said, including a survey that drew 902 responses, with 773 from Portland residents.

“They are looking for us to take it to the next level, and that covered a wide range of topics,” she said.

The survey said the results were not “guaranteed to reflect the views of everyone in the community,” but 75 percent of the respondents said they lived close to a park or open space they could access easily, with half the respondents saying they use the parks and spaces several times a week.

The varied uses and suggestions sometimes surprised Wooldrik.

“Community gardens, native plants and helping pollinator species are very much on people’s minds,” she said.

While survey results were gathered, the trust was mapping all the parks and open spaces owned by the city.

The expanse of 239 acres at Evergreen Cemetery on Stevens Avenue and the pocket park barely bigger than a backyard on Clark Street are all illustrated and numbered, with urban squares including Longfellow and Boothby also depicted.

“We had a phenomenal GIS mapping team,” Tone said. “If you get that right, you can do all sorts of awesome things in terms of showing what spaces exist, how close they are to homes.”

Wooldrik said the smaller spaces play a vital role and should not be overlooked.

“I sort of forget these things exist,” she said. “They are great for a neighborhood, it filling a needed role for the community.”

Future steps will continue in collaboration, Tone and Wooldrik said.

“We, like many other communities, are never going to have enough resources for the city or government to take care of it,” Wooldrik said. “It will have to be a shared effort between businesses residents and city and state government.”

Tone said strategies will be developed to help advocate the importance of parks and open spaces to city leaders, for preservation and as cogs in economic growth because they can help lure new city residents.

“I don’t want to underplay the public good and the public dollar,” he said. “You want people to be proud of their parks and open spaces.”

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Sidebar Elements

The pond at Evergreen Cemetary is part of the largest city-owned open space in Portland. A collaboration between the city, Portland Trails and the Trust for Public Lands will provide information, a map and possible strategies to fund preservation and expansion of open space.

Belmeade Park, on Baxter Boulevard across from Back Cove Trail, is one of the smaller parks mapped as part of a collaborative effort to identify and best preserve city-owned open spaces.

The Trust for Public Lands developed this map of the city-owned open spaces in Portland as part of the year-long Open Space Vision and Implementation Plan.

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.