A portion of land owned by the late Eleanor Conant Saunders is now part of a small trail system operated by Portland Trails.
The parcel, off Conant Street in Westbrook, cuts a scenic path over rolling, grassy hills and connects to the edge of the Presumpscot River, with views of the Dana Warp Mill downstream.
According to a press release issued by Portland Trails this week, Saunders had intended for the land to be used as a community trail system following her death. She died in 2014 at age 94.
“This is incredible conservation land,” Kara Wooldrik, Portland Trails executive director, said in the release. “Ellie was a principled lady and we are so grateful to her for trusting Portland Trails to protect it.”
The trailhead is located just to the right of Ernie’s Cycle Shop, and winds past Conant’s historic home, since sold, and Shaughnessy Family Farm, which grazes goats on the property.
Catherine Buxton, the communications coordinator for Portland Trails, said the property includes 400 feet of Presumpscot River frontage and “open meadows dotted with small groves of trees and various bird and plant species.”
She also said the property can be used for cross-country skiiing during the winter.
“Its proximity to other trails in the 70-mile network is strategic as Portland Trails looks to strengthen Westbrook’s connection to downtown Portland and complete a 20-mile trail loop throughout Greater Portland,” the release states.
Portland Trails has also been working on its Stroudwater River trail next to the Blue Spruce Farm subdivision. The group hopes that the trails can eventually connect to Saco Street.
Even after her death, Saunders has continued to give back to the Westbrook community, where she was a fixture for decades. Saunders was the wife of the late Westbrook mayor, Donald Saunders, and her ancestors were known to be among the first permanent settlers in Westbrook. Brothers Joseph and Samuel Conant are credited with operating Westbrook’s first saw and grist mills.
Earlier this year, a trust first established by Saunders in 1966 gave the city more than $100,000, split among multiple city departments.
Westbrook Public Services is receiving double the amount of other departments due to two projects that Saunders was closely invested in – the Whitney Rose Garden and the Conant Burial Ground, her family’s private cemetery on the Conant Street property.
Prior to that, the Westbrook Historical Society received dozens of historical scrapbooks compiled by Saunders over the years. She was one of the founding members of the historical society.
Conant Street is currently under construction, but on-street parking is available near the trailhead in the vicinity of 99 Conant St.
Portland Trails is hosting a community barbecue on Saturday, Aug. 6, from noon-2 p.m., to celebrate the opening of the land to the public.
On the new Portland Trails project at the Conant property, grassy paths wind their way through meadows down to the Presumpscot River.