About 7,300 acres south of Baxter State Park near Seboeis Lake will be secured for forestry and public recreation — including hunting, fishing, snowmobiling and ATV riding — thanks to a $950,000 federal grant awarded Wednesday.
The North American Wetlands Conservation Act Grants Program awarded the grant to the Katahdin Forest Expansion project north of Millinocket. Made law in 1989, the act provides matching grants to organizations who have developed partnerships to carry out wetlands conservation projects in the United States, Canada, and Mexico for the benefit of wetlands-associated migratory birds and other wildlife.
The funding will allow state officials to purchase about 2,343 acres south of Baxter State Park, including 16.8 miles of shore and island frontage of Seboeis Lake, for about $2.4 million, said Alan Stearns, deputy director of state Bureau of Parks and Land. Closing on the sale is scheduled for March 30.
Portions of the grant will also help buy a 4,956 acre parcel southeast of Baxter State Park from environmentalist Roxanne Quimby. That purchase will likely occur in a year, once the Land for Maine’s Future Program, Forest Legacy Program and Trust for Public Lands raise matching funds. About $1 million of the estimated $2.5 million purchase price has been raised, Stearns said.
“These parcels are allowing us to create a new balance in the Millinocket area of commercial forestry, motorized recreation and also continued support of backcountry opportunities,” Stearns said Wednesday.
“Just two or three years ago, there was a lot of conflict and tension between residents and landowners,” he added. “The people of Millinocket were understandably troubled by the loss of some key snowmobile trails and we are now piecing together some permanent trails to allow them to plan for the future. Today, we have some breathing room and we are working together.”
Several Katahdin region leaders, including Millinocket Town Manager Eugene Conlogue, Town Council Chairman Wallace Paul and East Millinocket Selectman Mark Marston, have been meeting with landowners, state recreation organization members and state legislators over the past year as part of efforts to ensure that local concerns regarding forestry and recreation — the Katahdin region’s economic lifelines — are preserved, if not enhanced.
Those efforts have paid off with the Seboeis Lake purchase, said Sam Hodder, executive director of The Trust for Public Land. The Seboeis area already has extensive ATV trails. The shoreline acquisition will improve the lake’s utility for boaters and fishermen, said Rep. Wendy Pieh, D-Bremen, chairwoman of the state’s Joint Standing Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.
Bob Meyers, executive director of the Maine Snowmobile Association, complimented the state’s federal delegation, especially U.S. Rep. Michael Michaud of Millinocket, for helping secure the grant. Michaud announced the grant’s acquisition on Wednesday.
“We are pleased and delighted,” Meyers said. “This is another great opportunity, and it’s real good news to see it come together. As usual, our congressional delegation has been Johnny on the Spot.”
More than 1.2 million acres have been preserved for public use over the last six years.