JEFFERSON, Maine — A promise made more than 40 years ago was fulfilled Saturday when the Sheepscot Valley Conservation Association dedicated a land preserve in honor of property owner Janet Stetser.
When former resident Stetser purchased 70 acres for $835 from Roy Haywood in 1967, she promised him that the land would never be developed. Stetser said that Haywood, then in his 80s, was concerned that his heirs would subdivide land that had been in his family going back to the early 1800s.
“He did not want the land developed,” recalled the 71-year-old Stetser, who now lives in McNeal, Ariz. “His comment to me was, ‘I have to do it now; I can’t wait.’ He died three months later.”
The Haywood parcel adjoined an additional 80 acres that Stetser’s parents had purchased in the early 1950s. Stetser told her mother shortly before her death that she intended to combine the two parcels and ensure they would be protected forever.
“I knew when I got that property that that’s what I would do,” she said. “My mother said, ‘What are you going to do?’ and I said I would do what I always said I would do. ‘You give me that land and I’ll give it to conservation.’”
Maureen Hoffman, executive director of the SVCA, said the Stetser Preserve was a key addition to the conservation association’s efforts to protect the Sheepscot River watershed. Stetser began the process of donating the land nine years ago.
“We’ve been working on this for a long time,” Hoffman said. “It’s a wonderful piece of property with water bodies, streams and wetlands that are part of the watershed. This is our [SVCA’s] 40th anniversary, and we’re having a lot of fun celebrating this gift and looking forward to the next 40 years.”
The Sheepscot River rises in the springs and streams of the Waldo County towns of Montville and Liberty and courses 58 miles through Kennebec, Lincoln and Sagadahoc counties before reaching the sea at Sheepscot Bay off Georgetown and Southport islands. The watershed encompasses 300 square miles.
The Stetser Preserve includes nearly 4,000 feet of frontage on an unnamed perennial stream and a small man-made pond. The tract is located within a 7,000-acre block of mostly undeveloped forest. Unique to the preserve is the pond. It was a naturally occurring pond in the late 1800s, but had filled in by the time Stetser’s family purchased the land. At that time the state was assisting landowners in developing farm ponds, and its restoration was completed in 1959.
“This is really a wonderful day for us to open up a new preserve. If it goes without saying that it takes a village to raise a child, it takes at least a village to build a preserve,” SVCA president Honor Sage said. “This is an amazing contribution, not only to this community, but for generations to come. This is fabulous.”
The wooded preserve is located off Egypt Road in south Jefferson. SVCA volunteers built a small parking area and kiosk and blazed a 1½-mile loop hiking trail through the woods. They built bridges and brush piles for wildlife throughout the parcel. Ben Brook, a Sheepscot tributary, meanders through the preserve.
The Stetser Preserve is near the 500-acre Heart of the Watershed project on a nearby bend in the Sheepscot River in Alna and Newcastle that was dedicated last week. More than 3,000 acres of the river’s watershed and 15 miles of riverfront are protected under easements and preserves managed by SVCA, Hoffman said. The Sheepscot is one of a handful of rivers in Maine that provide habitat for Atlantic salmon.
“I am absolutely thrilled that it will never be developed,” Stetser said. “There will be no permanent buildings, no motorized vehicles, just fishing, hunting and hiking. Three generations from now I hope people will be able to see the things I enjoy: lady-slippers, jack-in-the-pulpit, beaver and other wildlife. I always enjoyed walking this land.”
For information about the Newcastle-based river conservation association, visit sheepscot.org or call 586-5616.