Update: Neighbors, supporters raise 70% of the funds needed to protect Canco Woods from development

Almost seven months ago, I wrote about a 12-plus-acre of woods in the middle of an otherwise developed area of Portland called Canco Woods — after one of the streets in the area.

Todd Swinton, Erin Larson and their dog Emme stand on an undeveloped parcel of land known locally as Canco Woods in Portland on Thursday, March 22, 2012. The couple, and many of their neighbors would like to see the 12-acre lot preserved rather than developed. (BDN photo by Troy R. Bennett)

The woods had become popular among neighbors and those aware of its presence as a little known forest hideaway, where hikers, bikers, dog walkers and even wildlife watchers (deer, foxes and other animals are frequent passers-by in that little area, despite its relatively small size) could sneak to.

But at the point at which I was writing about it in late March, the property, technically privately owned by a subsidiary of Central Maine Power Co., was up for sale. And because it was zoned as light industrial property, all of those who had come to cherish the spot as a wilderness oasis feared it would be built up or paved over.


To speed up the recap, here, the proposed sale of the property to a mystery buyer ultimately fell through, and neighbors and conservationists — who’d argued they didn’t get enough notice that the acreage was on the market to cobble together a bid for it — got another bite at the proverbial apple.

This week, a group of neighbors who organized under the title Friends of Canco Woods and their partners with The Trust for Public Land announced they’d raised 70 percent of the $400,000 needed to buy the property. About $100,000 of the money raised was done so by area residents, a difficult feat when you assume those are small donations gathered home-by-home and maybe a collective of personal loans.

Said Friends member Tobin Scipione in a statement:

It’s an impressive show of support. Many have told me that this is the largest donation they’ve ever made — it means just that much to them. [But] even with these generous gifts from our neighbors and other gifts raised through our partnership with The Trust for Public Land, we still need to raise approximately $120,000 in a very short amount of time.

On Nov. 5, the Portland City Council will reportedly weigh whether or not to agree to take public ownership of the woods and contribute $75,000 to the purchase.

District 4 City Councilor Cheryl Leeman said this in a statement:

The [city’s] Land Bank Commission has been interested in preserving Canco Woods for years, and we’re excited to have the opportunity to work with such an active group of neighbors, the Trust for Public Land, and Portland Trails to make this happen. It’s the perfect example of how public and private entities can work together.

And here is a comment from Gregg Caporossi of The Trust for Public Land:

The Canco Woods project has been a conservation priority for the City for years and cherished as a community asset by this neighborhood for decades. At a time when public funding is down at all levels, it becomes extremely competitive. That’s why public private partnerships work, because collectively we can pool resources to achieve difficult goals. We are optimistic that we will receive significant public support, but at the same time, it’s also  extremely important for the fundraising to continue as the deadline is looming. We encourage anyone who wishes to donate to this worthy cause to contact us at The Trust for Public Land’s office here in Portland, or contact the Friends of Canco Woods through their website.

Kara Wooldrik, hiking in Scotland in a pic provided by Portland Trails

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that the organization Portland Trails plans to upgrade the wooded trails through the area and maintain them moving forward. Here’s a statement from Portland Trails Executive Director Kara Wooldrik:

We’re excited to join with the Friends, neighbors who have been devoted to maintaining this property as a natural wild space for decades. This partnership also allows the Woods to become a key link by connecting existing trails on the property to the greater Portland trail network.

Seth Koenig

About Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.