Land purchase connects conservation tracts

Posted Nov. 09, 2009, at 9:35 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — A dream long held by conservation and environmental groups to permanently protect land stretching from the Moosehead Lake region to Baxter State Park has become reality with the purchase of the Roach Ponds tract by the Appalachian Mountain Club.

The 29,500-acre Roach Ponds tract is among the wildest and most pristine areas in Maine’s North Woods, according to Walter Graff, deputy director of the Appalachian Mountain Club. In addition to the secluded Roach Ponds, the tract borders approximately 20 miles of the Appalachian Trail through its storied 100-Mile Wilderness, which is known as one of the most challenging parts of the entire trail.

Located about 10 miles east of Moosehead Lake, the Roach Ponds tract connects the Katahdin Iron Works tract, which already was owned by the Appalachian Mountain Club, with a huge area surrounding Mount Katahdin and Baxter State Park that already was protected by The Nature Conservancy and the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands.

The protected parcels, which together stretch for more than 65 miles, represent more than 600,000 acres of contiguous land that will be preserved forever for hikers, backpackers, campers, hunters and other outdoor enthusiasts.

“The Roach Ponds tract has been on our radar for many years,” said Graff, who spearheaded the project for the Appalachian Mountain Club with the help of several organizations, including The Nature Conservancy and the Sierra Club’s Maine chapter. “In terms of wildlife recreation, there is no doubt that Maine is on the map now.”

The Appalachian Mountain Club purchased the parcel from Plum Creek Real Estate Investment Trust Corp. for $11.5 million, which was raised through donations to the club’s “Campaign for the Maine Woods.” The purchase was the first major milestone in a nearly 400,000-acre conservation plan negotiated among Plum Creek, the Appalachian Mountain Club, The Nature Conservancy and the Forest Society of Maine. The Land Use Regulatory Commission required Plum Creek to protect the acreage in exchange for a zoning change that makes way for a major housing and resort development being planned by Plum Creek north of Moosehead Lake.

Also involved in the negotiation was The Nature Conservancy’s purchase of a 15,000-acre Moose River Landscape, land that is also contiguous with the rest of the conserved corridor.

Maine Department of Conservation Commissioner Patrick McGowan said part of the credit for the projects belongs to Gov. John Baldacci, who in 2002 announced his Maine Woods Legacy project to promote the protection of forests. Since that time, according to McGowan, the state has moved from having the lowest percent-age of conserved land in the nation, about 6 percent, to having almost 18 percent of its land forever protected. Between what’s conserved by the state and land trusts, there are approximately 3.3 million acres in Maine under some sort of protection.

“Great progress has been made,” said McGowan during a Monday afternoon press conference at the State House. “This is a wonderful accomplishment for the state of Maine.”

Baldacci said that in addition to ensuring that future generations will enjoy the wilds of Maine, the conservation project has other effects as well.

“Less than six years ago, I first spoke with you about this vision for the Maine Woods to help protect the values we in Maine have long nurtured and regarded as essential for the ecological, economic and cultural health of our great state,” said Baldacci. “Maine residents and visitors will be able to enjoy this beautiful area for generations to come.”

Greenville Town Manager John Simko said the project should create economic development for an area of Maine that desperately needs it.

“We need people to find the northern Maine woods,” he said. “There’s a place here for everybody.”

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