BETHEL – An informational forum on land conservation needs in western Maine Tuesday night centered more on ways to achieve a sustainable economy.

All of which ties into land conservation, said Tim Glidden, executive director of Land for Maine’s Future Program.

“Over the course of many, many years in land conservation, we’ve moved from a protect-and-close-it-down mentality to a mentality of how do we sustain ourselves,” Glidden told about 30 people at the forum.

He said from 1987 to 1999, Land for Maine’s Future focused its energy on funding easements and land buys like the Mount Blue-Tumbledown project, which has significant interest statewide. Now, however, it has been directed by the Legislature to focus on projects at community levels to better meet economic needs.

Citing an example of such projects, Glidden mentioned Bear River Rips, a 4.5-acre parcel of land on the Androscoggin River in Hanover that the Mahoosuc Land Trust bought with Land for Maine’s Future financial assistance.

“This is a fabulous example of projects we’re looking for now. It is a success story that was really successful due to local vision and local initiative,” he said.

But the bigger picture question of what’s the best approach to work toward in the face of looming change and development pressures, he left up to forum participants. They, however, struggled to puzzle out the solution.

“The big picture of trying to preserve land is positive,” said Dick Walthers of Otisfield. “But preserving the uniqueness of Maine has tremendous repercussions. If people see Maine as becoming another New Jersey, then it loses that uniqueness.”

“We need to make sure that our tourism promotion is congruent with the need to manage the resources that we have here,” said Bruce Hazard of Mountain Counties Heritage, Inc., in Farmington.

During the two-hour meeting, participants shared ideas and frustrations about ways to preserve land yet develop a sustainable economy and channel growth in desirable ways.

For Glidden, the Bethel forum, which was hosted by the Trust and Bethel Area Chamber of Commerce, was more in line with their reason for conducting it.

“This was a very lively meeting with good attendance by comparison to our other meetings. In Calais and Millinockett, (participants) focused more on big controversies. But in Bethel, a lot of the people here are happy about land conservation. Here, there is a genuine interest in the future,” Glidden added.

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