Thousands of acres set aside in Newry

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BETHEL — About 40 people from 17 state and federal agencies joined congressional officials to celebrate the conservation of 3,363 acres at Stowe Mountain in Newry on Wednesday.

The agreement will ensure sustainable timber harvesting and protect a hiking link to the Appalachian Trail.

The deal closed on Dec. 11, 2009, when Maine’s Bureau of Parks and Lands bought the working forest conservation easement from the landowner, The Center for Special Needs Trust.

The center is an investment account that helps parents who invest for the benefit of their special-needs children.

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U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and representatives for Sen. Olympia Snowe and Rep. Mike Michaud attended.

The acquisition used $1.1 million from the U.S. Forest Service Forest Legacy Program, $156,800 from the Land for Maine’s Future Program, and $300,000 in mitigation funds from TransCanada’s Kibby Wind Power Project more than 50 miles away.

That protection will ensure continued sustainable harvesting to supply fiber to area mills, protect important forest habitat, secure permanent public access for hunting, fishing, hiking and snowmobiling, and protect the Grafton Loop Trail corridor link to the Appalachian Trail.

“This is conservation done right,” said Eliza Townsend, commissioner of the Maine Department of Conservation. “What I love about this is that it’s a home-grown project supported by local people maintaining business and offering recreational opportunity.”

Collins said that’s why she worked with Snowe and Michaud to secure more than $1 million in FLP funding for project. It was the top Forest Legacy priority in 2007 for funding consideration by Congress.

“It’s a tremendous accomplishment,” Collins said, praising the town of Newry, the Mahoosuc Land Trust, Mahoosuc Initiative Partners, the Trust for Public Land, the forest service and other federal, state and local agencies.

“I also very much appreciate that it continues the tradition of a working forest for most of the land, and conservation and recreational uses ranging from hiking to snowmobiling,” Collins said.

“It shows that a mixed-use forest can be conserved in a way that is beneficial to all the interests,” she said. “This project has firm community support, and that’s the reason that all of the organizations that were involved were willing to take it on. So, I think it’s a credit to the vision of the people of this community.”

The protected land is west of scenic Route 26 and Sunday River Ski Resort and east of Grafton Notch State Park.

The easement ensures that more than 2,600 acres will remain open to timber harvesting and about 700 acres are set aside as a no-cut buffer for the Grafton Loop Trail.

“This parcel of land includes 4 miles of the 42-mile Grafton Loop Trail, the first new three- to five-day hiking loop trail built in Maine in more than 30 years,” Collins said. “Also, it provides the primary link between snowmobile trail networks in Maine and New Hampshire.”

Snowe, through her representative Diane Jackson, credited the “unwavering dedication” of all involved with preserving the Stowe parcel, “which will maintain Oxford County as a tremendous recreational destination.”

tkarkos@sunjournal.com

This Trust for Public Lands map shows the location of 3,363-acre parcel’s location within the Mahoosuc Notch region of Newry. The parcel, depicted in yellow, is at bottom center.

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