GRAND LAKE STREAM, Maine — The clock is ticking on a four-year effort by the Down East Lakes Land Trust to raise the $15.8 million required to acquire a conservation easement that would preserve 22,000 woodland acres surrounding the tiny Washington County community of Grand Lake Stream.
Of that amount, $14.5 million already has been committed to what the nonprofit terms the West Grand Lake Community Forest, leaving an additional $1.3 million to be raised before Dec. 12, 2012, a deadline stipulated by a $500,000 challenge grant the project has received.
Executive Director Mark Berry said Wednesday the $15.8 million would be used by the trust to purchase a conservation easement on the land that would be held by the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. That easement would protect 17 miles of undeveloped shoreline on three lakes within the property: West Grand, Big and Lower Oxbrook. It also would preserve 42 miles of interior streams and 9 miles on Big Musquash Stream and a quarter mile of shoreline along Grand Lake Stream at Big Falls.
Created in 2001, the trust already either owns or manages 33,700 acres of timberland that includes 70 miles of shoreline on nine lakes. It also helps to conserve another 316,300 acres.
“This forest ties into our mission of managing a community forest for wildlife habitat, public recreation and sustainable timber harvesting, which is an important aspect of the local economy in employing truckers and workers in the woods and supporting the mill in Baileyville,” Berry said. “The logging is done in ways that are compatible with our recreational priorities and habitat protection goals.”
Acquiring the conservation easement on the 22,000 acres now owned by the New Hampshire-based Lyme Timber Co. will give the trust a three-year option to purchase the land. Berry said he expects that the total costs associated with the easement and outright purchase will be $24 million.
The trust has an annual operating budget of $1 million, with most expenses related to timber-harvesting activities.
“For every dollar of timber revenue we get, we have roughly a 70-cent cost for harvesting the logs and delivering them to the mill,” he said. “We also have about 800 contributors, including many local and seasonal residents.”
Berry said he and his volunteer board of directors were pleased — and a bit surprised — by the level of support this latest Community Forest effort has attracted within a community of only 100 year-round residents.
“This property surrounds the village, and how it is used will determine the future nature of the community,” he said. “I went to the town meeting in November of 2008 and asked for two things. I asked for a formal endorsement of the West Grand Lake Community Forest project, which was approved unanimously, and I asked for a $10,000 contribution. There was some debate over the contribution request, which was increased at the meeting from $10,000 to $40,000 and also approved unanimously.”
Among the challenge grants the Community Forest concept has attracted are two $1 million grants from the Elmina B. Sewall Foundation in Brunswick. A $500,000 challenge grant also was provided by the New York-based Open Space Institute, which supports conservation efforts throughout the Northeast, Berry said. Through its Forest Legacy Program, the U.S. Forest Service has contributed nearly $6.7 million to the project.
“Because we have this Open Space Institute challenge grant, we need either direct contributions or pledges by Dec. 12,” he said. “We can borrow against pledges, but without pledges we can’t meet the requirements of the Sewall Foundation challenge grant.”
Berry suggests that individuals or organizations wanting to contribute or pledge can learn more about the project by visiting the trust’s website at www.downeastlakes.org or calling 207-796-2100.