Charter members of Orono Land Trust will shake heads in disbelief as they realize that it has been 25 years since a for sale sign in Orono spurred them into action. In 1986 a 44-acre parcel of land owned by the Hilton family of New Jersey was put on the market. Because local town folks had been using trails on this property for years it was a case of “you don’t miss it until it’s in jeopardy of being gone.”
A flurry of events ensued, starting with the writing of bylaws and obtaining a preliminary designation as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization from the IRS. This was followed by grant writing, obtaining a mortgage and raising money to buy the property, then paying off the mortgage during the next two years.
The land trust then gave the property to the town of Orono. The property was later designated the Jeremiah Colburn Natural Area and serves as a town park and hub of the expansive trail system envisioned by this group of local volunteers 25 years ago.
A mission statement evolved during these early years and it was formally expressed in 2006 as: “Orono Land Trust exists to protect, manage and preserve portions of the natural environment in Orono and surrounding communities for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations. We work to balance conservation and development, extend and maintain trail systems connecting natural areas, encourage appreciation of natural habitats, and ensure perpetual access to public lands and waters.”
Several ingredients are necessary for local land trusts to be successful. Private landowners, who are willing to allow access to their properties for trail crossings and willing to sell or donate land for conservation purposes, are essential.
Secondly, town citizens must be supportive financially with their dues and generous with their time by volunteering and being willing to serve on a land trust board of directors.
And third, it is extremely helpful when local municipalities provide the collaborative atmosphere so each entity has the opportunity to support the other.
Orono and surrounding communities have been blessed with several individuals or organizations that have either sold or donated land or conservation easements for future generations. These protected habitats are distributed throughout Orono and adjacent towns and include nine fee lands, nine conservation easements and 10 trail easements (visit www.oronolandtrust.org for map).
Many citizens of Orono are members of the Orono Land Trust. During these 25 years, hundreds of citizens have volunteered thousands of hours to contribute to the trust’s work, including multiple, three-year terms on the board of directors.
The diversity of professional talent in Orono and surrounding communities is reflected in the diversity of its 20-person board. The enduring and positive relationship between the Orono Land Trust and local towns has been expressed in many ways, including in joint projects, funding support for projects of mutual benefit, trust members serving on town of Orono committees and boards and the town of Orono accommodating the trust for office space.
Efforts to conserve the Penjajawoc Marsh, which contains one of the most diverse arrays of breeding birds in Maine, united members of the Orono Land Trust and Bangor Land Trust in a common cause. From this mutual interest the two land trusts joined forces in 2002 to initiate the Caribou Bog-Penjajawoc Project. This ambitious effort aims to create a corridor of conserved land suitable for wildlife and recreation extending from Bangor to Hudson and to date has conserved over 4,000 acres in the 18,000-acre focus area.
In 2005, the Veazie Land Association, an affiliate of the Orono Land Trust, was formed to expand membership and conservation activities within the neighboring town of Veazie. This partnership uses Orono Land Trust’s corporate nonprofit structure, while capitalizing on local direction and resources from Veazie residents.
To ensure that the Orono Land Trust maintains and enhances its credibility as a nonprofit organization, it has embarked on a three-year process to become accredited by the Land Trust Alliance. This involves a thorough review and reorganization of the Orono Land Trust records and policies to achieve an acceptable level of the required standard and practices that govern land trust work nationwide. Land trust members have embraced this effort and are well under way on this task.
Although the future is always uncertain, the land trust model is to conserve open spaces and greenways in perpetuity. My hope is that when the golden anniversary comes around citizens of the Greater Bangor community will recognize and appreciate the legacy of the volunteer Orono Land Trust members during the first 50 years, and that the next generation of volunteers will still be going strong.
Jerry Longcore is president or the Orono Land Trust.