BETHEL — A local man who has worked tirelessly for years to preserve the natural beauty of Western Maine has won the Natural Resources Council of Maine's People's Choice Award.
Bob Iles, a longtime member of the Mahoosuc Land Trust, said Wednesday that he was humbled by the honor.
“It's been a fun thing,” the retired dentist said.
Iles was cited by the NRCM for his exceptional efforts to preserve a significant portion of the summit of Whitecap Mountain in Rumford and for maintaining its trails. He successfully negotiated for the purchase of 760 acres on Whitecap and arranged the necessary easements.
Iles and other Mahoosuc Land Trust members raised a significant amount of money to buy the acreage to provide perpetual stewardship.
He was also honored for his continuing work to get public access to area lands and waterways as a member of the land trust.
Iles, and his wife, Lida, moved to Bethel more than 20 years ago from Florida where he practiced dentistry.
“We fell in love with the Bethel area – the beauty and the people. The first Sunday we visited (the Congregational Church), people were so friendly and nice to us,” he said.
They had visited many other towns in Maine, but found the Bethel area to be the most open and friendly, he said. They lived in Andover until three years ago when they moved to Bethel.
The Ileses came to Maine the first time many years ago to attend an Audubon birding camp. They came nearly every year after that until it was time to retire and they discovered the Bethel area.
He said he is grateful to the Mahoosuc Land Trust for giving him and others the opportunity to get involved "to do things we like to do and because we want them there in the future.”
He also remembers how developed Florida had become.
“We lived there for 30 years. We moved to Maine and could see how much was lost (in Florida),” he said. “We are working on conservation projects with the land trust to preserve the things worth preserving, to make sure these things are still around when our grandchildren's grandchildren are here.”
The Whitecap Mountain project is now being expanded, thanks to Iles and others in the land trust. They are coordinating work on the Whitecap trail to the adjacent Black Mountain trail. The 3.5 miles of trails, currently being cleared and improved by seven Youth Conservation Corps members, will be known as the Black White Trail. One of Iles' many duties is coordination of volunteers and working with state agencies for land preservation projects
Iles has coordinated many nonprofit groups, as well as individuals, to work on trails through the years.
He and the land trust director, Jim Mitchell, are also working to get another canoe access to the Androscoggin River in Rumford. He said the access will likely be carry-in.
Sam Day of Hallowell, Robert Duchesne of Hudson and Mark Stadler of Camden received environmental awards during the NRCM's annual meeting in Portland late last month.
“Maine is fortunate that citizens like Sam, Robert, Mark and Bob understand what's at stake and put their concern and caring into action. Thanks to them, future generations of Mainers, and visitors who love Maine, will experience healthy natural places and wildlife we enjoy today,” she said in a press release.