HARRISON — The Western Foothills Land Trust has purchased a 14-acre retired sand pit, known as “Moon Valley.” It hopes to restore the land to its natural vegetation.

“The name is really Moon Valley, a very apt name for its appearance,” said Land Trust Executive Director Lee Dassler of the property, which is south of Route 117. It was last worked as a sand pit in the late 1970s or early 1980s, Dassler said.

The Moon Valley parcel, one of the many Maine gravel pits identified by environmentalists as posing threats to nearby waterways, includes 390 feet of Crooked River frontage. The Crooked River Watershed has been a conservation focus of the land trust for several years because of the river’s role as a significant fishery and drinking water source.

Dassler said the land was bought for $45,000 — the appraised price — with financial support from the Maine Natural Resource Conservation Program.

The Western Foothills Land Trust will partner with environmental consultants Boyle Associates to restore and enhance a variety of natural functions on the retired sand pit parcel. The funded project includes the creation of 2.7 acres of freshwater wetlands, enhancing 1.4 acres of emergent wetlands and upland buffer, with a buffer zone of 4.9 preserved acres.

“The entire bowl was the sand pit; it has been excavated to the max,” Dassler said. “We cannot restore the original topography of the site. It will still be a bowl, but at least a greener bowl with a greater potential for natural habitats.”

Dassler said Boyle Associates would create some topographic variation, based upon the hydrology of the parcel.

“Some areas will be dug out to support additional wetlands acres; other areas, raised up as vegetative buffer,” she said of the planned restoration. “Organic material will be brought in to give the plants and trees a chance. The plants will have to make it on their own, so Boyle Associates will rely upon proven resilient species to start. Nature always tries to recover. We will be helping with that process.”

Dassler said it is important to keep or restore a forested buffer along the Crooked River main stem, as well as the tributaries. “Forests help prevent erosion and provide cooling shade, important to significant fisheries like the Crooked,” she said.

The Maine Natural Resource Conservation Program is administered by The Nature Conservancy, in collaboration with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It was created to manage money collected through Maine’s In Lieu Fee Compensation Program. The voluntary program allows entities that affect natural resources, primarily wetlands, to make a payment directly to DEP as an alternative to the traditional mitigation process.

Dassler said fees collected by DEP are deposited in a Natural Resource Conservation Fund, administered by the Conservancy. Funds are awarded through a competitive grant process to projects that restore, enhance or preserve high-quality natural resources.

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