Western Maine conservation leader Lee Dassler was bestowed the Espy honor at Maine Coast Heritage Trust’s Annual Maine Land Conservation Conference held April 13 in Topsham, Maine


AREA — Maine Coast Heritage Trust (MCHT) has named Otisfield resident Lee Dassler as the recipient of the 2024 Espy Land Heritage Award, an annual award recognizing an individual, organization, or coalition for exemplary conservation efforts in Maine.

“Lee Dassler has been an inspirational leader at Western Foothills Land Trust, bringing enthusiasm, passion, humility, and determination to the work of land conservation for more than twenty years,” said MCHT President & CEO Kate Stookey. “She has connected countless people of all ages and backgrounds to the lakes, forests, rivers, and rolling landscape of the Oxford Hills area.”

Under Dassler’s leadership, Western Foothills Land Trust (WFLT) has conserved more than 9,000 acres of land across eight communities, securing public access for hiking, snowmobiling, flyfishing, and much more. The list of conservation successes includes the protection of over 2,500 acres of wildlife-rich forest and wetland habitats and more than 10 miles of frontage along the Crooked River, whose cold waters lure spawning salmon each year.

Over the past decade, Robert’s Farm in Norway has become a four-season hub and WFLT’s signature preserve, with an attractive network of trails, vibrant community gardens, popular seasonal events, and informative educational offerings. Most recently, the land trust has been a key partner in the effort to conserve more than 25,000 acres of the Chadbourne Family Tree Farms, ensuring traditional public access and sustainable forest management well into the future.

“Lee has left an immeasurable mark at the land trust over the past two decades,” said Carl Costanzi, WFLT President. “She took the organization to greater heights, embracing new initiatives as diverse as working with the local school to advance education, partnering with downtown businesses to enhance the local economy, making free Nordic ski equipment available to expand access to the outdoors, and supporting Portland Water District efforts to safeguard the headwaters of Sebago Lake.”

“Perhaps Lee’s most enduring impact in the Western Foothills has been her effectiveness in bringing together diverse people from across the community in support of land conservation outcomes designed to improve the day-to-day lives of people and families,” explained Angela Twitchell, MCHT’s Land Trust Program Director. “She has been a warrior for community conservation, providing guidance, direction, and example for land trusts across the state to emulate.”

“Lee began as a volunteer board member, quickly became the land trust’s first executive director, and has recently transitioned to the role of development director,” added Costanzi. “No matter the title, she has always brought energy, innovation, and a collaborative spirit to the tasks at hand.”

Dasser received her Master’s degree from Columbia University in Historic Preservation. In honoring past President Jay Espy with this award, MCHT’s board of directors created a fund that awards $5,000 per year to a conservation charity in honor of that year’s Espy Land Heritage Award winner. This year, Lee will be directing the financial award to Western Foothills Land Trust and the McLaughlin Garden, to honor two Board Presidents: Andrea Burns at the McLaughlin Garden, and Bob Van Nest at WFLT.

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