Bridgton may take ownership of park

By Lisa Williams Ackley
Staff Writer

Voters in the Town of Bridgton will be asked to take over ownership of the 65-acre Pondicherry Park.

Peter Lowell and Carrie Walia, executive directors of Lakes Environmental Association and Loon Echo Land Trust, respectively, gave a presentation at the April 12 selectmen’s meeting on the status of Pondicherry Park and what remains to be done before Pondicherry Park can be gifted to the town.

“In 2006, the Town of Bridgton was the first major donor to Pondicherry Park,” Lowell said, in his overview of the project. “It is made up of seven different parcels totaling 65 acres.” He explained how the Pondicherry Park trail system “is virtually completed.”

“The trail is accessible,” stated Lowell. “It took a lot of work last fall, but it is now wheelchair accessible from Depot Street to Willett Road. I think 95% of the infrastructure in the park and at the entryways is complete. A couple of things we’d be finishing up are the spiral staircase on the entryway walkway to the Bob Dunning Memorial Bridge. Frank Howell and Down East Snapdragon were generous enough to give Loon Echo Land Trust an easement to the bridge — he wants people to stay on the trail. The bridges are done, and the trails are almost complete. We’re talking about having a dog loop off South High Street. The Steering Committee suggested the center of the park be wild and quiet.”

“So, what’s left to do is pretty minor,” said Lowell. “The parking lot at the far end is leased for $1 per year from the Flint family, and that will continue. That’s pretty much where we stand. I think we have a pretty tight package for you. Pondicherry Park has been in use for three or four years.”

“Now, we’re at the point where Loon Echo Land Trust, along with Lakes Environmental Association and the Steering Committee, are ready to turn it over to the town,” Lowell said.

Four documents comprise the proposed agreement between the town and LELT:

• a quitclaim deed reserving a conservation agreement which gives the Pondicherry Park property to the town and retains a perpetual conservation easement to protect the park;
• a conservation easement with the purpose of protecting the park’s quiet character, natural resources and wildlife; assure availability of low-impact outdoor recreation; and encourage environmental education;
• a committee agreement that establishes the Pondicherry Park Stewardship Committee to set management standards and rules for low-impact recreational use (consistent with the Conservation Easement), and oversee volunteer-based management activities in the park. The Committee is comprised of seven members named by LELT (2), LEA (2) and the town (3).
• a management plan referenced in the Conservation Easement and Committee Agreement, the plan will guide annual and long-term management activities to ensure ongoing maintenance and protection of conservation and recreation rules.

Restrictions of the conservation easement include: non-commercial; not to be subdivided; no additional structures except under Management Plan and limited by the conservation easement (allowing one small picnic area pavilion); no new surface alterations (under Management Plan, trail system may expand 10%); vegetation management limited; no timber harvesting; Keene Field to be kept open; under Management Plan control of invasive species allowed; no waste disposal, dumping or filling; non-motorized, low-impact public access allowed and must be maintained; no horses; domestic animals and bicycles restricted to a designated corridor (zone at north end).

Loon Echo Land Trust retains a right of first refusal, if the town ever transfers the property, and LELT cannot transfer or assign the conservation easement except to LEA or another qualified organization.

Lowell said that $750,000 has been paid to purchase the land and there is another $20,000 to raise for that purpose, and “we will do that by this summer,” he said. “The conservation easement will be held by Loon Echo Land Trust.”

Carrie Walia said she and others met with Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz a couple of weeks ago to sketch out the area and discuss the deed that will gift the park to the town.

Lee Eastman asked, “What’s Plan B, if the town decides it doesn’t want it?”

“The park has been in the public’s eye and they’ve been enjoying the park,” Walia said, “so we hope the selectmen and the voters will support this.”

Berkowitz asked the selectmen if they want to have voters decide on accepting Pondicherry Park at the June annual town meeting or wait until a referendum vote in November.

Walia stated Loon Echo Land Trust’s position, stating, “We’ve been the fiscal agent and current landowner, and paying insurance on Pondicherry Park.” She said LELT would like the acceptance portion to go forward “so we can move on to other projects.”

“I think both organizations (LEA and LELT) feel a connection and pride with this,” Lowell said. “We’re both in it, for the long run.”

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