Federal awards totaling $8.73 million will protect two Western Maine forest properties from development.
Most of the funding — $7 million — which comes from the U.S. Forest Legacy Program, will go toward preserving 11,800 acres of Plum Creek's working forest on and around Crocker Mountain in Carrabassett Valley, according to the Maine Department of Conservation.
The state will continue to harvest timber on the Crocker Mountain property, which should provide area jobs and future revenues for the Bureau of Parks and Lands.
"Franklin County has the highest percentage of workers in the forest products industry in Maine, meaning that jobs will be protected," said Wolfe Tone, director of the Maine Trust for Public Land.
The land buffers 10 miles of the Appalachian Trail and will add 3 miles to snowmobile Route 115 of Maine's Interconnected Trail System, along with 4 miles of the ATV trail system. Protecting the property from development will guarantee access for other types of recreation, including hunting, hiking, mountain biking and cross-county skiing.
The second High Peaks Conservation Project is Orbeton Stream in Madrid Township, for which the state will receive $1.73 million for the purchase of a conservation easement over 5,808 acres of family-owned timberland.
The Orbeton Stream property is owned and managed by a local family-run timber company, Linkletter Timberlands of Athens, which uses the fiber to supply its mill, directly supporting 40 employees. The company also supplies fiber throughout Franklin County.
Linkletter Timberlands will continue to harvest timber on the Orbeton Stream property for its mills. Family representative Robert Linkletter said the company made a choice to sell the easement.
"We could sell the lots along the stream for people to build camps, or we could provide this conservation easement to give people access to the trail system and for recreational use," he said. "We decided that the easement was the best thing to do, and will help keep more people employed in the timber industry."
The Orbeton property provides views of the Appalachian Trail and includes a 6.4-mile section of snowmobile Route 84 of Maine's ITS system, which will be made available for public use.
Protecting the property will keep the forests in timber production and ensure access for outdoor recreation.
Snowmobile and ATV clubs will have new access to western Maine trails that previously been off limits. Fishermen should be happy, too.
The entire Orbeton Stream parcel has been designated by the federal government as critical to the return of Atlantic salmon. In 2007, Maine's Department of Marine Resources said salmon reared in the Orbeton watershed had returned from the North Atlantic Ocean for the first time in more than 150 years.
The Trust for Public Land must raise $800,000 by July to complete the purchases, said J. T. Horn, TPL's New England project manager.
The Forest Legacy Program receives its revenues from oil and gas leases on federal lands. The program allocated $135 million to support proposed projects in 2012 in the 50 states and Puerto Rico. Of the 46 applications, they selected 13 projects. The Crocker Mountain project ranked third among those, and Orbeton Stream was 12th.
Chris Beach, a member of the Maine Appalachian Trail Land Trust and the High Peaks Alliance, said the funding acknowledges the tireless work of several local conservation and recreation groups. He and others met with Carrabassett Valley selectmen and Town Manager Dave Cota, launched a statewide letter-writing campaign and enlisted support from many organizations to support the projects. This funding brings them closer to developing a network of 71,000 acres of conserved land in Franklin County.
"We couldn't have done this without the support at every level," Beach said.
The project could have stalled, according to Beach, when Gov. Paul LePage appointed William Beardsley as the new Conservation commissioner.
State Sen. Thomas Saviello, R-Wilton, arranged an opportunity for LePage's senior policy adviser, Carlisle McLean, and Commissioner Beardsley to meet with the Western Maine projects' stakeholders in the fall of 2011.
"They were both very enthusiastic about continuing to support the project, which helped take this to the next level," Saviello said.
LePage and the Maine Department of Conservation subsequently recommended the Crocker Mountain and Orbeton Stream projects as the state's top priorities for Forest Legacy Program funding. U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, R-Maine, and U.S. Rep. Michael Michaud, D-Maine, also offered support for the project.
"Sen. Collins really helped us with her support," Beach said. "She loves this area and has seen what we want to do."
For more information about the High Peaks Alliance and the project supporters, visit www.highpeaksalliance.wordpress.com.