NEW GLOUCESTER — Chandler Brothers, a family-owned land management company whose New Gloucester roots herald back to the mid-1700s, made a difficult but necessary gift of 2,500 acres to Maine Woodland Owners.
“We knew we had to do something so the land wouldn’t be developed. That’s why we’re giving it away,” said spokesman Steve Chandler, representing the four family owners, Charles P. Chandler, Bertha Chandler, Natalie Chandler and himself.
It’s an outright gift with no money exchanged, just the belief that land stewardship for the future will be upheld.
At a Maine Woodland Owners Forestry Forum in January, the announcement of the gift of 2,500 acres of forestland in New Gloucester to Maine Woodland Owners Land Trust was announced.
Executive Director Tom Doak said by telephone that 200 people attending the forum were stunned by the announcement and “jaws dropped.”
“This land gift represents half of the organization’s total land trust acreage,” said Doak, whose organization is the steward of 5,000 acres owned outright and 3,000 acres of easements. “This is one of the largest land holdings all in one town, something that is highly unusual,” he said. “We’re really excited.”
“Our management won’t look different,” he said.
Stewardship will match the goals of the family: land management, including growing trees for forest products; allowing public use for hunting, fishing, trapping and walking; no development; and paying taxes to the town.
The land consists of roughly 45 parcels scattered throughout New Gloucester. Some tracts abut the Shaker land conservation easement. All of the lots are being studied for deed accuracy, which will take a few years. After each lot is cleared, it will be conveyed to Maine Woodland Owners.
Steve Chandler and his wife, Natalie, spoke on behalf of the family.
”Our line has been in New Gloucester since Peleg brought his wife, Sarah, here from North Yarmouth in the first wheeled vehicle, an ox cart in the mid 1700s,” Steve Chandler said.
“The family has been invested in agricultural and forestland since,” he said. “My grandfather and his three brothers acquired Uncle Solomon’s land in the 1890s and ran a successful sawmill and lumber business. An aunt and her son and daughter along with Natalie and I are presently managing some 2,800 acres of land under the traditional name of Chandler Brothers. Some of the land dates back to the mid-1700s.”
The family grappled for a dozen years about the future management of the land, he said.
“We knew we had to do something so the land wouldn’t be developed. That’s why we’re giving it away.”
Steve and Natalie’s children realized they couldn’t manage their parents’ shares and Charlie and his late wife’s children never knew the New Gloucester land and all had careers elsewhere, according to Maine Woodland Owners.
Steve, a professional forester, retired from the U.S. Forest Service in 1998 and moved back to New Gloucester. He and his cousin, Charlie, managed the land they inherited from their fathers, Charles P. Chandler and Warner Chandler. Bertha and Natalie have been “silent” partners, Steve said.
But as children growing up in Lower Gloucester, first cousins Steve and Charlie got their lessons in land management skills from their fathers, learning boundary lines and surveying.
“The family worked to restore land after hard cutting in the 1930s with the help of forester Cliff Foster of Gray for more than 50 years,” Steve Chandler said.
Dozens of notebooks of business letters kept by the family show how wood from the land was shipped all across the United States.
“We have always wanted to see ourselves as part of the community, silently,” Steve Chandler said.
“These lands lured me into the forestry profession,” he said. “Today, the properties lie between two major metropolitan areas of Maine, Portland and Lewiston-Auburn. Sprawl pressures are horrendous and much of my time is spent working on long-range land management issues to try and maintain the character of the town of New Gloucester.”
Doak said he had never seen better long-term management. “We’re all in awe of this spectacular gift.”
Steve Chandler stands with one of the giant pine trees on Chandler Brothers land in New Gloucester. (Photo courtesy of Maine Woodland Owners)
Steve Chandler, Charles P. Chandler and Natalie Chandler address Maine Woodland Owners Forestry Forum at the Civic Center in Augusta in January. (Photo courtesy of Maine Woodland Owners)