A view across the wetland on the proposed Sanford Community Forest. Three Rivers and partners aim to protect wetlands on the property while allowing recreation. Courtesy ofThree Rivers Land Trust

SANFORD — Three Rivers Land Trust (Three Rivers) is leading a fundraising campaign with Mousam Way Land Trust and other community organizations, with the goal of creating a large recreation and conservation area in Sanford to benefit the community and the region. This 550-acre property, to be named the “Sanford Community Forest,” is one of the largest remaining undeveloped areas within city limits, and Three Rivers aims to protect its ecological health and make it available for public recreation and traditional uses.

Of the nearly $800,000 it will take to acquire, restore, and improve access to the property, Three Rivers has already secured $620,000 through foundation and government grants, and is now kicking off an energetic campaign to raise the remaining funds.

“It is so exceptional to have a large tract of forest within a city, and this is a wonderful opportunity to preserve these woods,” said Amy Titcomb, president of Three Rivers Land Trust. “In a time when so many of us are even more appreciative than usual of the outdoors, we are pleased to be planning trails in a forest that can be enjoyed for many generations to come.”

This landscape of valuable plant and wildlife habitats is enjoyed by exploring hikers, mountain bikers, and hunters in season, who would continue to have access once the property is protected. It already includes a rough trail from previous forestry operations with access from upper Oak Street and the Rail Trail, which would be improved after the property is purchased by Three Rivers. The Community Forest will provide vital water quality protection in the Salmon Falls River watershed and carbon storage throughout its extensive forests.

Three Rivers has received a generous $180,000 grant from an anonymous foundation to kick-off fundraising and needs to raise $180,000 more by the end of 2021 to make this massive project a success. Money raised will cover the cost of purchasing the property, installation of a trailhead on Oak Street, creation of a community forestry plan, and will provide a dedicated fund to help care for the property over time. The land trust will continue to apply for grants, but expects to raise the majority of the funds from community members and local businesses who support land conservation for recreation, health, and environmental sustainability.

The western part of the Community Forest is rich with wetlands, and Three Rivers has received generous funding from the Maine Natural Resources Conservation Program to acquire, restore, and steward the western 310 acres. This portion of the forest will be allowed to develop in a wilder state, with a low-impact trail from which to admire its beauty. The eastern part of the Community Forest is about 240 acres, and will be more actively managed to demonstrate sustainable forestry and develop recreational trails. The entire 550 acres will be open to hunting under local regulations and land trust guidelines, and the forested nature of the land will be maintained indefinitely.

Three Rivers Land Trust is coordinating this ambitious project as part of its mission to build stronger, healthier communities through the conservation of wild and working landscapes. Find more information about the project and how to donate on the Three Rivers website www.3rlt.org. Keep up with project updates through the Three Rivers Facebook page, or by signing up for the land trust’s e-newsletter.

Three Rivers Land Trust is a membership-supported organization dedicated to building stronger, healthier communities through the protection of wild and working landscapes in Acton, Alfred, Lebanon, Shapleigh and Sanford/Springvale. Named for the Little Ossipee, Salmon Falls, and Upper Mousam Rivers, Three Rivers Land Trust holds conservation easements to protect farms, forests, and wetlands, and maintains preserves, which provide public access to recreation and hunting.