Trail Partnership to Connect Springvale Natural Areas

Great Laurel (Rhododendron Maximum) - photo by Arx Fortis

At its meeting on September 20, 2022, the City Council voted to authorize Parks and Recreation Director Brady Lloyd to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding on behalf of the City with the Three Rivers Land Trust (3RLT) and the Massachusetts-based Native Plant Trust (NPT) to build a connecting trail, over a proposed joint recreational easement issued to the city and 3RLT, across private property. The trail will connect 3RLT’s 550-acre Sanford Community Forest to NPT’s 56-acre Harvey Butler Rhododendron Sanctuary off Oak St. This will create a safer, more accessible route to view and appreciate the unique natural area of the Sanctuary. The Trails Committee will spend up to $4,167 out of the Trails Capital Improvements Program as the City’s one-third share of the local matching funds required. This phase of financing is for easement procurement, which includes surveying and deed registration, and trail planning and design. The trail is being designed professionally with an eye towards eventual ADA compliance..

There is an existing trail, but it is problematic due to a lack of parking. The trail would be rerouted to roughly follow the boundary between 490 and 498 Oak St. via public recreational easements, and connect with the Sanctuary trail.

The green shaded area in the map below is the property owned by the NPT (formally called New England Wildflower Society). Kevin McKeon of the Mousam Way Land Trust (MWLT) describes the rare colony of Great Laurel (Rhododendron maximum) there as “absolutely stunning in its mid-July bloom,” and adds that the primary purpose of this trail building proposal is to allow foot travel out into the protected wetland area, for a breathtaking view of the blooms, which are on a slope towards the wetland.

Mr. McKeon notes that during the City’s annual 4th of July Parades, some of the rhododendrons you see in bloom in the front yards of Main St. homes are transplants from this area from decades ago. Harvesting from the Sanctuary is no longer allowed. The Sanctuary site is listed on the Maine State Register as a Critical Natural Area. Other spring wildflowers there include yellow blue-bead lily and painted trillium, as well as flowering shrubs northern spicebush and sheep-laurel. The site borders a red maple swamp and wet meadow, which display brilliant color in the fall.

The pink shaded area is City-owned property, obtained via a mitigation agreement when the solar farm was built at the Sanford Seacoast Regional Airport. The solar farm displaced the endangered grasshopper sparrow, and also affected the endangered black racer snake. For these, and the disturbances of wetlands, mitigation was required. MWLT holds the conservation easement on the property, and advises the City as to what can and can’t be done on the property. Mr. McKeon said public trails are encouraged so as to educate citizens by “getting them outside” to sense the nature around them.

The proposed new trail is actually a revival of a trail that was built as a Boy Scout project at one time. There are issues with connecting the new planned trail to the existing trail on the City’s mitigation property, but it is hoped to find a solution. The eventual connection, if it can be made, will allow foot trails from the McKeon Reserve all the way to Springvale Square, via a half mile walk down Harry Howes Road, McDougal Orchard and MWLT properties.