Stowe Mountain project creates partners, jobs

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Stowe Mountain in Grafton Notch, to those who know the area in Newry, conjures images of ridge line hiking in an alpine-like area, incredible summit vistas, and deep Maine forest.

On April 7, a group of federal and state officials, including U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, will meet in Bethel to recognize the conservation of this treasured area in the state of Maine — more than 3,300 acres of working forest on Stowe Mountain in Newry. The Maine Department of Conservation recently purchased a working easement for this land with help from the Trust for Public Land.

While the conservation of unique areas in Maine always gives us a sense of satisfaction, the completion of this particular project evokes a special feeling of accomplishment to us at the Maine Department of Conservation and Land for Maine’s Future program. State and local conservation partners have wanted to protect this area for some time, particularly because it’s strategically located next to Grafton Notch State Park and the Mahoosuc Public Reserved Land Unit.

Securing the easement for this land took the support of numerous hard-working people who all had the same vision for posterity. The land remains in the ownership of the Center for Special Needs Trust Administration, an investment account that helps parents who invest for the benefit of their special-needs children. They saw the value not only of helping their own children but also helping the children of Maine with this conservation easement, and for that we are most appreciative.

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In 2007, the state of Maine recommended the land as a top priority for the U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Legacy Program, and our congressional delegation — U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Collins, and U.S. Rep. Michael Michaud — made sure the easement purchase took place with Legacy funding. The foresight and hard work of U.S. Forest Service and our delegation should be applauded.

Now this conservation project has been completed, and it has been done in the best way possible for Maine — through an effective collaboration of local, state and federal partners that has kept it as a working forest that will create jobs and benefit the area economically. All Maine residents can feel a real sense of pride.

This wonderful area, known for the unique rock formations, gorge and sculpted waterfalls at Grafton and its proximity to the Appalachian Trail, was seriously threatened by the encroachment of subdivision development. Now the region’s key wildlife and plant habitat, including rare alpine plants, its water quality, and its scenic values are protected. Now there is guaranteed public access for a range of recreational uses, including snowmobiling on ITS 82, a vital snowmobile trail; backcountry hiking on the popular Grafton Loop Trail; and for camping, hunting, trout fishing and other recreational activities.

Just as importantly, the land now remains privately owned and privately managed, with active harvesting contributing to a sustainable supply of wood and the jobs that rely on it.

Jobs are being retained for the Maine loggers working in the woods and in the forest products industry that requires a stable supply of wood, as well as being created in the tourism and retail businesses in this premier, year-round tourist destination area. This is the best of both worlds, combining conservation and business interests in a way that benefits all.

Such collaboration is the Maine way of doing things; it’s what we practice throughout the Maine Department of Conservation and at LMF to move toward a strong economic future for this state while protecting Maine’s valuable landscape for future generations.

Our project partners made sure there were matching funds, through LMF, a true success story for getting the conservation job done; and with a significant contribution from TransCanada’s Kibby Wind Power Project, a wind-power generation project located about 50 miles away. Their support is proof that renewable energy, renewable forests and landscape conservation can co-exist.

Our other partners have done yeoman’s duty in working with us to make this project happen. They include: TPL; the Appalachian Mountain Club; the Appalachian Trail Conservancy; Hurricane Island Outward Bound School; the Mahoosuc Land Trust; the Maine Appalachian Trail Land Trust; the Maine Natural Areas Program; the Northern Forest Alliance; The Wilderness Society; The Mahoosuc Guide Service; and the Mahoosuc Initiative.

Maine’s natural landscapes define our state, and they are our greatest advantage as we plan for the future. By working together as has been done on behalf of the Stowe Mountain land, we can ensure the continuation of what Maine people hold dear: working forests, unspoiled open spaces, clean water, plant and wildlife habitat, and public access to exceptional recreational opportunities.

George Lapointe, commissioner of the Maine Department of Marine Resources, is chairman of the Land for Maine’s Future board.

Eliza Townsend, commissioner of the Maine Department of Conservation, is a Land for Maine’s Future board member.

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