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Snowmobilers applaud planned land acquisitions in Falmouth

Earlier this month, the town took another step toward preserving open, recreational space – a move that is being applauded by a local snowmobile club.

Wayne Keniston, president of the Falmouth Sno-Voyagers, said the town's ongoing effort to purchase four parcels of land in the town's northwest corner will help preserve an important trail in the club's 40-mile network. It is also a key access point to Maine's Interconnected Trail System and its 3,500-miles network.

"It's a pretty important trail," Keniston said. "On a 10 scale, I'd rate it 8 1/2 to nine."

The parcels, which will cost nearly $450,000, were the subject of Town Council action on March 10, when the council unanimously agreed to buy the properties from four land owners, one of whom wanted to move the trail away from his property.

The trail, which is west of Blackstrap Road near the Cumberland and Windham lines, is located along a ridge. One of the few options for moving the trail would put it into a gulch, which would be a challenge, according to Robert Shafto, the town's open space ombudsman.

"It's not impossible, but it would be very, very difficult," Shafto said.

The council action builds on a December decision to apply for two grants from the U.S. Forest Service and Land for Maine's Future, which would pay for most of the cost. If the grants are not awarded, the town is not obligated to buy.

In addition to preserving the snowmobile trail, the properties could someday accommodate biking and hiking trails, Shafto said.

The town's effort to preserve recreational space for snowmobilers is a welcome and somewhat complementary effort, according to Keniston, who calls himself one of the "last of the old guard" at the snowmobile club that he helped form in 1973.

For more than 40 years, the club has been working to maintain open land, by negotiating agreements with landowners, long before new-millennium efforts such as the Greening of Falmouth – a 2006 plan that calls for acquisition and preservation of open spaces throughout town.

If successful, the town's effort – whether intentional or not – will help build on the club's tradition.

Jim Rodway, trail master for Sno-Voyagers, said Falmouth's existing network is the result of diligent effort by volunteers.

"We're fighting all the time to keep these trails open, because of development, (and) various property owners," Rodway said.

The club's membership includes about 40 families and 10 businesses. More than a dozen members perform volunteer trail work on a regular basis, which includes grooming and pre-season maintenance.

Rodway has been a member for six years, and trail master for one, but he said the club's network has expanded over its history, despite pressure from developers and landowners. Last year, the club added 11 miles to the network.

Still, land access is vulnerable. Poor etiquette from an unwitting club snowmobiler can close a trail overnight, Rodway said. In other cases, trails are often closed when land changes ownership.

Earlier this year, for instance, the club lost a segment of trail that links Falmouth's network to Westbrook's when a property owner built a new home near Hardy Road and denied access.

"We still haven't really found a way around it," Rodway said. "It's been quite a problem."

Rodway said the town's effort to acquire properties for recreational use is welcomed by the club.

"When the town buys land and snowmobile trails are built, they're there forever, as long as we maintain them," he said.

In the meantime, the club members have enjoyed one of the best snowmobile seasons in recent memory. Keniston, who also owns Keniston's Motorsports on Gray Road, said business has been booming with this year's consistent snow cover.

Rodway said this season has been "the best I've seen it, since I've been a member."

The town has a fair chance at winning the federal grant, but Shafto said he is "not as confident" about a possible grant from Land for Maine's Future. The town should receive answers in the next few months.

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