Environment Spotlight

Save Our Intervale: What’s the story?

|Debra Smith|

It’s impossible to miss all of the green and white “Save Our Intervale” signs around town, but not everyone knows the story behind them. Drivers pull over to query walkers and people gardening in their front yards about the signs.

Save Our Intervale. Photo: Deb Smith

In a nutshell, The Royal River Conservation Trust (RRCT) and Gray-New Gloucester Little League (GNGLL) are raising funds to purchase about 180 acres of land from Don and Lynne Chandler, whose family has owned this property since the 1700’s. RRCT, which has purchased, conserved and manages thousands of acres of conserved land in New Gloucester and other towns in the Royal River Watershed, hopes to develop trails and to conserve wildlife habitat in this pristine area that reaches from the Lower Village to the Intervale. GNGLL has had a ball field on Route 231 in the Intervale since the 1970’s, and would like to develop, on about 10 acres, a multi-field complex with parking, restrooms, concessions stand, lights, digital scoreboards and an amplified sound system that would serve, not just GNG players, but teams from all over the state. Herein lies the story of the “Save Our Intervale” movement.

Proposed GNGLL complex on Rte 231 | map from GNGLL’s Intervale Fields website

The ranks of the Save group have been growing. Abutters Tim and Lisa Knedler wrote an opinion piece for NGXchange in April, detailing the issues from their perspectives. More recently, a letter with more than 100 signatories urged the RRCT and GNGLL boards that plans for the ball field complex be scaled back or moved. Now, an “Intervale Forever” Facebook page, just launched, includes many testimonials to the importance of preserving the Intervale, known far and wide as a particularly rich environment for migratory birds and other wildlife.

The Intervale Forever Facebook group describes the Intervale as an area of unique significance:

Intervale Forever’s mission is to serve as an information resource and network for people to conserve the natural and historical resources of New Gloucester’s most charismatic place. The Intervale is a gentle river valley, shaped over 12,000 years ago as the glacier retreated at the end of the last Ice Age. Through it flows the Royal River, the watercourse that connects New Gloucester’s woods and fields with the Gulf of Maine. It teems with birds and other wildlife; wild brook trout persist in its headwater nooks and springs. Its floodplain helps keep New Gloucester’s upland areas—including people’s homes and property—dry and habitable. The Intervale and its main riverine artery are at the heart of the rural character that makes New Gloucester a unique place—a quiet, unspoiled spot in the shadow of the burgeoning suburbs surrounding Portland and Lewiston-Auburn and a link to our primeval past. (From Intervale Forever Facebook page)

Save Our Intervale writers emphasize their support for youth baseball and softball. Concerns center on three interconnected issues:

  1. Impact on the Intervale’s iconic beauty and environmentally sensitive landscape of wetlands and wildlife habitat;
  2. Impact on the community, with increases in traffic, noise that will carry for miles around, and lights that will be visible from a distance;
  3. Use of the fields by state-wide teams, not just GNG players.   

Environmental impact
The Intervale is an iconic natural setting, central to the sense of place that New Gloucester residents hold dear, according to Save supporters and the many community members who responded to the survey conducted by the comprehensive plan update committee. Protection of natural resources is central to the new Comprehensive Plan that community members will vote on in the next week. The area in which the ball field complex is proposed is zoned in Resource Protection, and the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife identifies some of the wetlands as being “of special significance.”

Kevyn Fowler shared a video expressing his reverence for the Intervale.

Save Our Intervale supporters see the ball field complex as permanently endangering this sensitive environment, and incompatible with the concept of conservation. Some question the RRCT’s involvement with the GNGLL as counter to its mission. In a recent Op-Ed in the Portland Press Herald/Lakes Region Weekly, resident Gina Sawin explains her perspective.

Impact on the community
Topographically, the Intervale sits in the bottom of a large bowl. The crack of a bat and cheering sounds from ball games are audible up the hill in the Lower Village now, with no amplification. Traffic and parking are already a concern, with the number of games that have taken place at the existing ball field over the past year. With several games scheduled at once, as called for in the GNGLL’s plan, resident and conservation advocate Charles Gauvin notes in a post, “(It’s) a quantum leap in terms of human presence and traffic and trash and noise and lights.”

Michele Cyr Reynolds wrote, “I love the quaint charm of the current ballfield. It’s enjoyable to hear ball players laughing and parents cheering. Just cannot envision multiple ballfields with lights and amplifiers. It just doesn’t fit with the character of the New Gloucester Village.”

In an interview, Lynnette Moser reflected on her experience growing up in Cumberland, where she watched farms and fields disappear as they were replaced by housing and other development. “Once it’s gone, you can’t go back. It’s frightening to think that this could happen here… that the vision of a small group of people could irrevocably impact the scenic beauty and historic village that New Gloucester is known for.”

Will this complex contribute economically to the town? It will likely increase customers to local food purveyors like the Village Store and Links, but will also increase wear and tear on the roads and demands on services such as NG Fire & Rescue. Any taxes paid may not offset this. (The GNG Little League pays taxes on its properties in New Gloucester, but received tax abatements in 2018-19 that reduced their local tax bill to a few hundred dollars.)

Use of the fields: Who benefits?
GNGLL publicity and fundraising materials describe the planned complex as benefiting Gray New Gloucester ball players. They don’t mention the involvement of Maine Thunder, a state-wide “talent development” organization that, last year, used the existing Intervale field for 40 practices and 100 games.

On their Facebook page, Maine Thunder features photos of site work under way on the Intervale field, and has set up a Go Fund Me page to raise funds to “help bridge the gap of future softball players in Maine being able to have an amazing outside facility to work on their skills at in a professional teaching environment… (we have 21 teams of players from 10u, 12u, 14u, 16u, 18u age groups) and [are] looking for help in resurrecting an ‘old little league softball field’ in New Gloucester, Maine.”

GNGLL past president and project co-chair Steve Libby is among those on Maine Thunder’s Go Fund Me top donations list.

Lynnette Moser explains in a post on the Intervale Forever page, “What many people do not know is that the Gray New Gloucester Little League children will only be able to use this location starting in May through mid-June. After that GNGLL will be “’leasing the 3 fields’ 7 days a week and multiple times throughout the day through October to Maine Thunder.”

Work in progress at Intervale ball fields. Photo from Maine Thunder’s Facebook page
Ball fields complex, work in progress. Photo from Intervale Forever Facebook page

What’s next?
The GNGLL and RRCT hosted a gathering at the ball fields site on April 22nd and heard from a number of concerned residents who had “a lot of anxiety and a lot of questions,” according to one. Attendees hoped to hear back from the GNGLL about how the group will respond to community concerns. They have not yet had a response, but an FAQ has been posted by the GNGLL addressing some of the questions posed.

As this project will not go to voters for approval, Save Our Intervale supporters must rely on the GNGLL and RRCT to be responsive to their concerns.