Downeast Coastal Conservancy launches $1.9 million riverfront acquisition project

Posted May 10, 2012, at 1:34 p.m.

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MACHIAS, Maine — A new campaign being orchestrated by the Machias-based Downeast Coastal Conservancy has its sights set on acquiring 1,020 acres along the Machias and Middle rivers, which surround the community.

The “Two Rivers Campaign” has set a goal of raising $1.9 million and is being billed as an economic development opportunity that would drive community revitalization through conservation programming. Acquisition of three parcels abuting the two rivers would provide new access points for canoeing, kayaking and fishing and would bring those using the river for recreational purposes into the center of Machias.

The three parcels involved are interconnected by the Down East Sunrise Trail, an 87-mile rails-to-trails conversion that runs from the Hancock County community of Washington Junction to the Washington County community of Ayers Junction. It has proven popular with hikers, bikers, ATV enthusiasts and, as conditions permit, snowmobilers.

“This is a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Tom Boutureira, the conservancy’s executive director, said at a campaign kickoff event Thursday in Machias. “The landowners we are working with have great vision.”

Boutureira and other supporters of the project are excited about the outdoor educational opportunities the three parcels will provide. Machias’ elementary and high schools are both adjacent to the Down East Sunrise Trail.

“This creates the potential for kids to walk out back of school and have access to the trail and to these rivers,” he said. “This is a great educational resource for the community. There is a lot of history and a lot of great stories about these two places.”

The project’s $1.9 million budget sets aside $1.2 million for land acquisition from three owners who have already agreed to a purchase price, Boutureira said. The Middle River parcel, he said, is 100 acres, while the Machias River parcel to the west is 820 acres. Also targeted for acquisition is 100 acres of Sunrise Trail scenic buffer behind and to the west of Down East Community Hospital.

The project’s budget earmarks $500,000 for a stewardship endowment that would generate $15,000 annually to cover property taxes and other costs related to managing the parcels. Immediate access improvements are budgeted at $100,000, and another $100,000 is set aside for legal and fundraising campaign expenses.

The campaign has already attracted $900,000 in pledges. Donations of up to $400,000 will be matched by the J.A. Woollman Foundation, a Nebraska-based foundation that has helped to conserve property there and in Michigan. Money to be matched will need to raised before Dec. 31, 2012.

Among those endorsing the project Thursday was Bill Cherry of Machias, a retired forester and and now a director of the Down East Sunrise Trail Coalition.

“This project will mean that people can have the same experience today that I had when I was 12 years old, coming down the Machias River,” he said. “I’ve been around long enough to know when I’m being handed a wooden nickel. This is no wooden nickel, but a golden nugget.”

David Dowley, president of the Downeast Coastal Conservancy and co-chairman of the project’s fundraising committee, was heartened by the turnout Thursday of 35 local and regional civic, community and conservation leaders.

“I feel like I’m at a conservation coming-out party,” he said. “It’s a thrill to see the enthusiasm for this project. This is an opportunity that came about by chance, but it’s an opportunity to show how conservation and community can come together. Machias has struggled over the years but has some wonderful assets. This is an excellent opportunity to make good on one of the themes of the conservancy: How do we make community thrive through conservation efforts?”

More information about the Two Rivers Campaign is available on the conservancy’s website, www.downeastcoastalconservancy.org.

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