NEWRY — More than 10,000 acres around Stowe Mountain in Newry and Robinson Peak in Riley Township near Bethel are now under conservation protection.

Officials at the Trust for Public Land, a national conservation organization, and Maine’s Bureau of Parks and Lands made the announcement this week, saying the conservation of the properties will “stave off development threats, ensure continued sustainable harvesting, protect important forest habitat, secure permanent public access, and protect the Grafton Loop Trail corridor linking to the Appalachian Trail.”

The protection began as a grass-roots effort through the Mahoosuc Land Trust, said Stephen Wight, a member of the Newry Board of Selectmen and president of the Land Trust.

“It was like a puzzle piece. There was a missing piece in Grafton Notch area,” Wight said of the 3,363 privately-owned acres  around Stowe Mountain in Newry. The land is next to more than 33,000 acres of public land, including the Grafton Notch State Park and the 6,730 acres around Robinson Peak in Riley Township in Oxford County.

The Riley Township property was acquired through donation of a conservation easement from an investment partnership created by Lowell Blake &
Associates, a Boston-based investment management company that
specializes in ethical investments.
The easement protects 6,730 acres around Robinson Peak. The corridor has dramatic views of the Mahoosucs region from Stowe, Bald, and Sunday River White Cap mountain summits, said Trust For Public land officials. Nearby development threatened to strip this land’s timber and make it susceptible to subdivisions, they said.

Newry Planning Board Chairman Brooks Morton said the conservation effort on Stowe Mountain will help stop overbuilding in Newry.

“Right now we’re at kind of a lull in development. But Newry would have been built out pretty quickly if it had kept up at the same pace,” said Morton when he heard the news of the 3,300 acres being protected in Newry.

Although there has been a decline in subdivision applications this year, Morton said some 500 lots have been approved during the past five years. They include the Powder Ridge subdivision, the Great Brooks Preserve near Bear River and another 100 lots that have been approved between Bethel and Newry.

“It made a lot of sense to conserve areas contiguous to others (publicly-held land,)” said Wight. Newry acts as the gateway to the Grafton Notch and the 3,363 additional acres, which represents about 8.5 percent of the town’s total land mass. It also includes parts of the new interstate snowmobile trail, adds four miles to the recently completed Grafton Loop Trail which extends from the Appalachia Trail and two main tributaries to the Bear River, and the Simmons and Wight brooks as well as river bank dwelling habitat and rare alpine plants.

In their announcement about the newly conserved land, officials at the Trust for Public Land said the Grafton Notch-Stowe Mountain and Robinson Peak projects are part of the greater “Mahoosuc Initiative,” a collaborative effort to conserve the recreational, scenic and economic values in the area.

“There were a lot of conservation reasons but the other reason is the industry in the area is recreation and tourism. Trail access issues and conservation of Grafton Notch all played into that,” said Wight.

The conservation project received $1.1 million in Forest Legacy Program funds plus nearly $700,000 in matching funds including $196,800 from the Land for Maine’s Future Program and a $500,000 contribution created as a result of TransCanada’s Kibby Wind Power Project, a wind power generation project approximately 50 miles away.

Matthew Schaffer, associate director of marketing services for the Trust for Public Land, said in a telephone interview from his California office that there are no provisions in the conservation easement for wind power projects.

That was good news to Morton who said the Newry Planning Board has been given a directive from the selectmen to create a wind power ordinance as quickly as possible.

A number of groups were involved in the conservation effort, including the Maine Department of Conservation, Appalachian Mountain Club, the Wilderness Society.

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