By Mary Blackstone
As I opened my back door during the recent cold snap, I came face to face with a doe whose nose was nearly pressed up against the door. Her eyes earnestly begged for relief from cold and hunger. Many of us have had a similar response to this “old fashioned” winter. Local climate fluctuations further focus our attention on things like the expense of energy consumption and snow removal, the extremes of tidal flooding and the challenges faced by wildlife. Perhaps like the doe, we sense that something is changing, that getting out and about — simply surviving here — feels more difficult, that we are powerless to but cope and adapt.
Within the complex maze of global negotiations and actions affecting climate change and environmental degradation, many feel like pawns in a stalemated chess game. However, real change in the way human beings relate to and affect the planet ultimately depends on local and individual understanding, commitment and action. Just as in chess, where pawns move across the board to be promoted in rank, so too individual citizens leading local strategic action achieve powerful results.
With this objective in mind, the Ellsworth Garden Club organized a public forum last January to determine interest in a citizens’ initiative to develop a Green Plan for Ellsworth. The number and diversity of forum participants as well as subsequent input and written submissions demonstrated a keen interest in repositioning the community around smart, green objectives guided by the welfare of our environment and ultimately a more people-friendly, thriving and welcoming community. A clear, but challenging goal emerged: a phased plan to eventually make Ellsworth a model green community.
Six areas of focus were identified: green and conserved spaces (including a walking/biking trail network and a sustainable local food chain); the Union River and other water management/access issues; sustainable maintenance and environmental interface; waste management (including recycling and composting); energy (renewable sources and efficiency); and sustainable development.
This is an ambitious list, but it has generated a strong level of volunteer commitment and expertise. A steering committee leading the planning process includes partner organizations committed to both planning and implementation: the city of Ellsworth (Councilor Gary Fortier, Planner Michele Gagnon); the Downeast Salmon Federation (Brett Ciccotelli); the Ellsworth Garden Club (Mary Blackstone, Reeser Manley); Frenchman Bay Conservancy (Aaron Dority, Eileen Bader Hall); Heart of Ellsworth (Cara Romano); Healthy Acadia (Katie Freedman); and the Historic Preservation Commission (Carolyn Ackerman).
Numerous other individuals are contributing expertise to the steering committee or one of its subcommittees: Martha Dickinson (alternative energy, energy efficiency); Julie Daigle (walkability and PR); Ericka Duym (landscape architect); Isabel Mancinelli (urban planner at the College of the Atlantic, whose students are also contributing) and Nick Navarre (photography, walkability/bikeability). Apart from their own cash and in-kind commitments, partner organizations have raised over $45,000 to support green planning including consultants, public educational programming, small projects and the coordinator/facilitator, Carole Martin.
Ongoing targeted consultations with key individuals and organizations, combined with a year-long series of related educational programs, projects and forums for 2018, are intended to fully involve and engage the community in not only the planning but the implementation of the plan.
“Small step” projects are helping to move the community toward its green objectives during longer term and larger scale planning and create markers of early successes.
- In May, the city of Ellsworth contracted with an organic lawn care company in direct response to a Green Plan submission regarding the hazards of pesticides and herbicides.
- Frenchman Bay Conservancy is acquiring the historic Jordan property on Bayside to create a conserved green corridor connecting Birdsacre with the Union River.
- A community survey with strong participation rates has yielded information about where walking and biking corridors and green spaces are needed.
- Fifty-seven city green spaces have, for the first time, been mapped and inventoried in detail.
- A demonstration garden along with a list of recommended plants for various habitats has been initiated to help residents and businesses create low-care plantings that maximize the benefits to pollinators, birds and other wildlife.
- A Museum in the Streets project is moving forward to highlight, among other things, historic green spaces and landmarks like the Old Burial Ground and locations along the Union River.
Other projects planned for 2018 include an “Eelsworth” river festival, walkability engagement events and efforts to increase access to and walkability along the Union River from the Library up to Leonard’s Lake. The Green Plan Steering Committee is partnering with the MDI organization, A Climate to Thrive, to support a Summit on Powering Change (Jan. 28, 2:30 p.m., MDI High School) and an Ellsworth panel and public forum: Powering Change — Saving Our Environment, Saving Money.
(March 19, 7 p.m., Moore Community Center).
By the end of 2018 we will have identified benchmarks, targets, responsible parties and funding sources in a 10-15-year Green Plan to be implemented. If Ellsworth is to become a model green community, however, it will require not only the support of City councilors and staff and the Green Plan partner organizations, but also large and small efforts from an even broader cross-section of citizens. The planning process is intended to empower all citizens to make a difference. We welcome further input and community involvement. Contact Mary Blackstone at 667-8878 or [email protected] and/or like us on Facebook: https://m.facebook.com/EllsworthGreenPlan/.
Mary Blackstone is chairwoman of Ellsworth’s Green Plan Steering Committee.