Casco eyes community forests on town land

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

CASCO — There are two initial hurdles that must be cleared before creating a community forest in any town.

One is generating among the citizenship an enthusiasm and willingness to assist in a long-term project.

The second is acquiring the acreage to set aside a wooded area as public land that would allow access for recreational and traditional activities. Also, the public property would provide a financial benefit since timber would be harvested with the guidance of a forester. Another advantage of a community forest is the ability to control and preserve water sources.

The Town of Casco already has hopped, skipped and almost jumped over those those hurdles.

Casco owns two parcels: a 70-acre site off Route 302 and between Lakewood Road and Ring Landing, and another located on State Park Road between Point Sebago Resort and Sebago State Park, according to Eric Dibner, Chairman of the Casco Open Space Commission.

The commission “has been working on a forest management plan for the two pieces of town property. The plan has been finished by the forester, and we are meeting with the (Casco) Recreation Committee to decide how these large parcels could be used for community forests,” Dibner said.

On Tuesday, several members of the open space commission attended a presentation hosted by Sustainable Forest Futures. SFF Director of Forestry Julie Renaud Evans spoke about New England’s history of the town-managed parks and woods.

Then, she provided examples from the past decade of what towns in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine had been doing.

SFF collaborates with entities such as The Trust for Public Land, Northern Forest Center, and Quebec-Labrador Foundation to guide municipalities and its citizens toward the goal of turning large tracts into multi-use communal land.

One function of the community forest is to use renewable sources for a monetary turnover for the municipalities.

“There are strong economic opportunities throughout the region,” Evans said.

“Every community’s project is different because every community’s needs are different,” she said.

“I teach communities how to acquire the land and steward it properly so it benefits the community and is a healthy forest,” Evans said.

Some towns have opted to set aside a section of the parcel for future economic development such as small businesses. One community even set aside a small part of the land to be prohibited from any timber harvest, she said.

Evans talked about the positive social impact these projects have had on citizens.

“The community forest brings people together in a different way. It might be hard to get people to sit on a board, but people might want to serve on a trail committee,” she said.

“It is exciting. And it’s not just dollars invested, people invest themselves in these projects,” Evans said.

When the community forest takes shape, people come out of the woodwork and into the woods.

“It provides a forest where children can learn. The students have a blast. And, I am not just talking about a walk in September. I am talking about measuring trees on snowshoes in February,” Evans said.

“It’s a great way to get people outdoors. One community spent the entire summer lining up hikes on the land,” she said.

One of the concerns brought forward by Dibner was that of public perception of land being owned by towns.

“Can you speak to the issue of the municipality owning the land? There are people who think it is not the town’s duty to go into business,” Dibner said.

Evan responded, “I hear that a lot.”

“It is a real issue. You need to be upfront about it, and talk about it. Some people think it is great that the town owns land for community forests. And there are others that call the town communists,” she said.

“But, the truth is: Towns already own land,” she said.

During the presentation, Evans provided models for management of the land that ranged from creating a nonprofit to turning the responsibility over to the planning board or a local land trust. Evans said the land management portion of any community forest project can be tailored for the town’s needs.

Loon Echo Land Trust Executive Director Carrie Walia had introduced Evans and invited participants to “think about how this could apply to your town.”

“Community forests seem to be a new and engaging concept,” Walia said.

 

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