Royal River Park is one of the most used and beloved open spaces in Yarmouth. The town is now creating a plan to guide future conservation efforts. Courtesy / Town of Yarmouth

YARMOUTH — For nearly a decade it’s been a goal of the town to create an open space plan that would guide conservation efforts.

Now a specially appointed task force is sharing a draft plan that residents will get their first look at during a forum scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 30, at Town Hall. The forum is designed as an opportunity for the community to learn about the plan and offer feedback, according to Karyn MacNeill, director of Yarmouth Community Services.

The plan outlines three overarching goals, along with recommended strategies for implementing them, but it also notes that it can’t just be a municipal endeavor.

“… by working with partners – including local landowners, nonprofits, and surrounding communities – much progress can be made,” the task force said in a plan summary, adding “the future of land conservation and park development in Yarmouth should not rely solely on the municipal budget.”

The first goal is to maintain and enhance town-owned lands, especially in the downtown village area. The second goal is to prioritize new acquisitions around “values that have stood the test of time,” particularly as it relates to increasing public access to the Royal and Cousins rivers and Casco Bay. The third goal is to update town ordinances and policies by extending protections for existing open spaces, shoreland areas, and other sensitive lands.

Town Manager Nat Tupper said after the forum, the Open Space Task Force will continue to share the plan with various town committees with the hope of presenting a final draft to the Town Council for approval sometime in October or November.

Erik Donohoe, parks specialist for community services, said this week that an open space plan was first envisioned as part of the 2010 Comprehensive Plan update, but it wasn’t until November 2017 that a group of concerned citizens approached the town about resuscitating efforts to create the long-overdue document.

Donohoe said the task force was created in March 2018 and members have been working ever since to bring forward a set of recommendations for open space priorities.

“Yarmouth is the most densely populated town in the region,” Donohoe said in an interview. “As the town continues to develop and climate change impacts accelerate on our coastline, it is essential that we protect open space for ourselves and future generations.”

“The marshes of the Cousins and Royal rivers are recognized as having statewide significance for shellfish and wildlife habitat and for coastal resilience. Open space is also critical to the character and quality of life in Yarmouth,” he said. Open space provides “huge benefits to the town (including) economic, ecological, recreational, social, and even spiritual. (That’s why) this plan is an important step.”

Donohoe said the task force has worked hard to be collaborative and inclusive with both town committees and town staff as it pulled the draft Open Space Plan together. Input has come from Tupper and Town Planner Alex Jaegerman, as well as the town’s tree warden and outside groups like the Royal River Conservation Trust, he said.

In the plan summary, the task force says there’s a need for such a document because “there is a growing use of our parks and desire for more options for boating, walking, biking, and for safe pathways connecting all parts of town.”

The proposed plan is designed to identify “key places that can … support our growing town, while leaving spaces for recreation, water protection, scenic views, and wildlife habitat,” the summary states.

Open space already owned by the town includes coastal parcels such as Sandy Point Beach on Cousins Island, wooded areas like the Frank Knight Forest and riverfront property, including Royal River Park.

“Yarmouth enjoys a great diversity of geographical, geological, and biological features within its boundaries, (which have) enhanced Yarmouth’s natural appeal as a place to live and work,” the plan adds.




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