ORONO, Maine — Dave Thompson paused for a moment after slogging through part of an old logging road flooded by a hardworking beaver family and the summer’s seemingly nonstop rain.
The precipitation had let up a bit again, if only briefly. But it was long enough to hear the birds chirping away in an expansive bog that is practically in the backyards of tens of thousands of Bangor-area residents, yet noticed by very few.
“It’s pretty quiet,” said Thompson, a retired forester and sawmill manager. “You’d hardly know that two miles away there’s a big shopping center with a lot of [people] running around spending their money.”
That shopping center is, of course, the Bangor Mall. And this spot where Thompson was standing that rainy August morning — a state-owned parcel between Forest Avenue and Pushaw Lake — is one piece of a giant jigsaw puzzle of protected lands coming together bit by bit.
For the past five years, members of the Orono Land Trust and Bangor Land Trust have led an effort to protect a patchwork of natural areas adjacent to one of the most populated areas of Maine.
The Caribou Bog-Penjajawoc Marsh project, as it has become known, seeks to balance growth in surrounding towns by creating an unbroken green corridor from Bangor’s residential and commercial districts to the northern end of Pushaw Lake in Hudson.
Nearly 20 partners are involved in the project, ranging from the municipalities of Brewer, Bangor, Orono, Old Town and Veazie to state agencies, the University of Maine and nonprofit organizations.
Lucy Quimby, president of the Bangor Land Trust board of directors, said the idea was to help local communities fill a void between the need for growth and demand for open space or natural areas.
“The local governments are stretched too thin,” Quimby said while strolling down a path in Walden-Parke Preserve, a 200-acre parcel located on outer Essex Street. “There is too much demand on their resources to do that.”
Like many of the properties within the corridor, Walden-Parke Preserve already has a network of trails that were laid down by logging crews decades ago. The trails cut through mixed-aged forests and near a giant beaver pond that supports a wide variety of waterfowl.
Walking, biking, bird- or wildlife-watching and snowmobiling, among other activities, are allowed on the property. Two local couples donated the property — located across the old Veazie railroad bed from the Bangor City Forest — in order to protect the land around an 82-lot subdivision they are developing.
In fact, the kiosk into the preserve is located in a cul-de-sac right next to a new large house. Once the second phase of the subdivision is under way, the couples will donate another 205 acres to the land trust.
“There are areas in here that were cut very hard,” said Thompson while glancing around the forests on either side of a wide trail. “This is developable, so you have to give them credit,” he said referring to the couples: the Oldenburgs and Shuberts.
Bangor Land Trust plans to use what’s known as “focus species forestry” to manage the land both for timber and for a wide variety of wildlife species. Stopping in a quiet grove of soft- and hardwood trees of varying ages, Thompson predicted the trust will likely make some “improvement harvests” in this area in 10 to 20 years as part of the focus species forestry.
Experts say unbroken corridors of habitat are especially important for supporting healthy populations of a wider variety of wildlife. But project supporters say the large tracts are also immensely valuable from a recreational and quality-of-life standpoint for local residents.
Back at the Forest Avenue-Pushaw Lake parcel, Quimby, Thompson and the land trust’s executive director, Rand Erb, strolled down well-marked trails that are only just becoming known to local residents.
The 950-acre parcel, which is located off Taylor Road, is now owned by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
The property includes a 20- to 30-acre bog similar to the one visible from the Orono Bog Boardwalk in the City Forest, but with a much more natural feel. The beavers that flooded part of the old logging road which bisects the bog had obviously been hard at work constructing what Thompson estimated to be several hundred yards of dams.
Land trust members estimate they are nearly halfway toward their goal with the Caribou Bog-Penjajawoc Marsh corridor. Some of that land has been donated or purchased outright, while other parcels are protected from development by conservation easements.
Dave Clement, president of the Orono Land Trust, said his organization’s members were at first delighted just to protect a corridor across Forest Avenue when the project began five years ago.
“Lo and behold, with community support and general support from several organizations, and especially Land for Maine’s Future, it is really coming along,” Clement said. “We’re basically one step ahead of development there.”
The project has received hefty financial support from both public and private groups. The Land for Maine’s Future program, which is financed with voter-approved bonds, has awarded more than $750,000 to the project during the past two years alone. And this spring, the project received a $666,566 boost from the North American Wetlands Conservation Act.
Earlier this year, the Maine chapter of The Wildlife Society recognized the Bangor and Orono land trusts’ members for “their ability to assemble an effective coalition of energetic individuals and financially supportive agencies and organizations to undertake a long-term effort” to protect the corridor.
Such projects are sometimes criticized because by putting land into conservation — even through easements rather than purchases — land trusts and other nonprofits eliminate or reduce money going into local tax coffers.
Clement acknowledged this is as a “very unfortunate consequence” of conservation projects, but he said organizations sometimes elect to continue paying taxes on the land. Such is the case with Orono Land Trust’s Hsu property.
“It’s our hope that the benefits [of conservation] will far exceed the downsides for the town and the people,” Clement said.