The Westbrook City Forest, often seen as an important but underutilized asset in the city, will be the subject of two upcoming public meetings to decide the best way to use the land.

The property, which just recently increased to 117 acres due to a 32-acre city acquisition, lies between the Westbrook Community Center on Bridge Street and Sunset Ridge Golf Links off Cumberland Street.

According to Nate Dyer, the vice chairman of the city’s Recreation and Conservation Commission, which is putting together the vision meetings, the commission wants to know what people would use the land for – whether it is hiking, biking, snowmobiling, snowshoeing and more.

“We want to push more use out here, and we want everyone who’s going to be using it to have a say in what those uses are,” he said.

The first meeting is Thursday, June 2, at 6:30 p.m., at the Westbrook Community Center community room.

The city hired Good Group Decisions, a Brunswick-based company, to help facilitate the meetings. Company principal Craig Freshley has also facilitated previous meetings in Westbrook, drafting the city’s comprehensive plan. Following next week’s meeting, the group, along with Freshley, will consider the input received and put together a few proposals to be discussed on Thursday, June 23.

Dyer said a goal is to to air any potential conflicts among the various groups that use the land. There are many parts of the informal trail network that are used for mountain biking and BMX biking, and large dirt jumps have been created.

“There aren’t many areas around for people to do that,” he said, adding that he hopes the meetings would allow groups to find a “balance” between uses.

Peter Burke, the chairmain of the commission and an avid runner, said Tuesday that he uses the city forest about two or three times a week.
“I’m a lifelong runner and mountain biker, plus I love the woods, so for me it’s a place to find solitute and beauty while getting a great workout,” he said.
The city forest features a wide trail, known as the Mainline, that traverses the entire length of the property, but also features a variety of informal trail systems circling the property. The additional 32 acres created the so-called City Forest North, a tract separated by a private parcel but connected through the Mainline trail.

The city announced the aquisition of the additional land in December, when it was purchased from the Caron family for $150,000, paid for by the Westbrook Environmental Improvement Corp. Dyer said the Recreation and Conservation Commission was originally slated to give $30,000 toward the purchase, but is instead using the funds to develop the trail system on the entire property.

The group is also about to install an informational kiosk and other landscaping at the existing trailhead behind the Westbrook Community Center, and an image has been created for what that project could look like. Dyer said they wanted to give residents an idea of the potential the site holds. Dyer said the trailhead needs a lot of work, but that an updated site could appeal to users of the community center.

He said they would be able to “take advantage of an improved trail system right in their back yard.”

The construction and installation of the kiosk is being done by students at the Westbrook Regional Vocational Center at no cost to the city.

Dyer said the group has also been in discussion with a number of businesses concerning the trail system, including Sunset Ridge, Sappi Fine Paper and the Portland Water District, who all have land bordering the forest. He said the commission hopes to host events or partner with things like the Tough Mudder or sled dog races in conjunction with Sunset Ridge, or possible trail running or winter “fat tire” bike races.

“We hope to generate awareness of the land as a public resource for non-motorized outdoor endeavors of all sorts,” Burke said. “Currently people are just not aware that this is an option for them, and we want to see more people out there using it.”

A Closer Look: 

The Westbrook Recreation & Conservation Commission hopes to receive resident answers to multiple questions pertaining to the City Forest during two upcoming meetings, including:

What types of activities should be allowed at the City Forest?

What activities should be promoted and planned for?

What should not be allowed?

What infrastructure improvements should we invest in?

How can we design and/or manage the property to accommodate multiple uses?

Or if we can’t do them all, which activities are the highest priority for this property?

This rendering depicts a redeveloped and landscaped trailhead at the City Forest, next to the Westbrook Community Center. The Recreation and Conservation Commission is hoping to hear feedback from the public on the land, and what projects should be done on its 117 acres.

Peter Burke, the chairmain of the Westbrook Recreation & Conservation Commission, stands near the Westbrook City Forest trailhead in December, following the announcement that 32 acres were added to the recreational land.

This map shows the City Forest with recent additional acreage making up the “City Forest North,” along with proposed trails.