For sale: one township in Washington County.
Actually, it’s not quite the entire township, but pretty near.
Township 19 (Eastern Division – Bingham’s Penobscot Purchase) is located about 15 miles north of Machias and just south of Route 9, sandwiched between Wesley to the west and Cooper to the east. (There is another unorganized Township 19 — Middle Division Bingham’s Penobscot Purchase — located north of Columbia Falls.) It is uninhabited except for a few camps.
The property, listed for sale with Fountains Lands, consists of 21,948 acres. The Fountains Lands website describes the property: “An exceptional timberland investment located in Downeast Maine, offering a substantial timber base and established internal road network, enhanced by miles of accessible high quality frontage on several lakes, ponds and the East Machias River.”
The fact that the property contains a significant stretch of the East Machias River — five miles of frontage — as well as other natural resources has drawn the attention of the Downeast Salmon Federation and other conservation organizations that want to work with new owners when the property changes hands.
The tract consists of the entire township with the exception of about 2,000 acres in the northeast corner near Love Lake that is held by another owner.
The size of the property is “not that unusual,” said Patrick Hackley, New Hampshire-Maine real estate manager for Fountains Lands, who pointed out that large tracts of land in Maine have traded hands in the past. There have been other “quiet” sales of larger properties, but Township 19 is the largest tract that Fountains Lands currently has listed for sale, he said, speaking by phone from the company’s office in Pittsfield, N.H., this week.
Several groups of investors have been interested in the property, said Hackley.
Ditto for conservation organizations, notably the Downeast Salmon Federation and the New England Forestry Foundation.
The federation, which is seeking to help restore the Atlantic salmon fishery that once flourished in Washington County (and elsewhere), operates a fish hatchery next to the East Machias River in East Machias, and its efforts have included stocking salmon parr into the river system.
The forestry foundation was a partner in the Downeast Lakes Forestry Partnership, a joint effort with the Downeast Lakes Land Trust. The Downeast Lakes Forestry Partnership encompasses the Farm Cove Community Forest, a 50-mile-long conservation-recreation corridor along Spednic Lake and the St. Croix River, and the 312,000-acre Sunrise Easement, which is held by the NEFF.
In fact, Township 19 abuts the Sunrise Easement, said Whitney Beals, director of land protection for the Massachusetts-based NEFF, who has had discussions with Shaw about the property for a year or two.
“We became convinced quite quickly,” said Beals, in discussions with federation executive director Dwayne Shaw, about the ecological importance of protecting the riparian wetlands and habitats in Township 19. “We’re poised to become a partner in whoever the next owner might be,” he said in a telephone interview this week.
The conservation organizations would seek to extend the Sunrise Easement, he said, as well as help restore Atlantic salmon habitat of the East Machias River, said Beals. “Above and beyond that, we would like to work with the new owner,” he said, to see long-range sustainable forestry management implemented on the property.
Township 19 contains “tremendous” fish and wildlife resources, said Shaw. “We want to make sure those resources are protected better in the future.” The federation is committed to maintaining the forest “as a working forest that supports the local economy,” he added.
“We’re trying to find a win-win outcome so that public access is assured,” said Shaw, and that opportunities for hunting, fishing, and other outdoor recreation are “maintained or improved.”
Other potential partners, besides NEFF, would be another salmon conservation organization, Eastport-based Project SHARE, and the Northern Forest Center and the Sunrise County Economic Council, according to Shaw.
The property is unique because of its size and its important natural resources, said Beals. “It’s unusual.”
Besides containing more than five miles of frontage on the East Machias River, Township 19 contains numerous brooks, streams, ponds, and lakes, and a portion of Love Lake. The tract has abundant softwood timber with total timber value of about $11 million, according to Fountains.
The property, owned by Timbervest Partners Maine and Spectacular Six, is listed for sale for $12.8 million and has been on the market since September 2012. Timbervest is a timber investment management organization, said Hackley. Like similar organizations in Maine and elsewhere in New England, it manages investment funds for “people interested in investing in timberland.” The company owns “several thousand” acres in New England, he said, and Township 19, which Timbervest has owned since about 2005-06, is just one of its holdings.
The history of rural land ownership has changed dramatically, observed Hackley. “The tenure of ownership is going to be shorter,” he said, 10-15 years at most. Such large tracts used to be owned by paper companies, he added. International Paper was the last paper company to own the property but sold it about 2001-02, according to Hackley.
Beals is hopeful that potential investors will partner with the conservation organizations. “We’re going to be ready to work with … whoever becomes the next owner of the property.”
A change in ownership may not be far off, hinted Hackley. “We’ll find a buyer,” he said. “We’re getting closer.”