ROCKPORT, Maine — A $4.2 million, 1,400-acre conservation project announced Tuesday could serve as a role model for the state in protecting the environment while promoting the economy.
That is what speakers said during a ceremony held on the shore of Mirror Lake, which serves as the main water supply for six midcoast communities. With the lake and Ragged Mountain serving as a backdrop, officials with Coastal Mountains Land Trust, Maine Coast Heritage Trust and Maine Water Co. unveiled the plan that would preserve 1,400 acres around the region’s water supplies and create a four-season 9-mile public recreational trail.
“This is bigger than the midcoast,” U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree said. “This is an important role model for the state. Here in Maine, we know we have to take care of the land. We know it’s important for our economy.”
Ian Stewart, executive director of Coastal Mountains Land Trust, said this effort was a major leap forward in protecting the natural resources of the region. The Land Trust has raised more than $1 million of the $4.2 million needed to complete the project.
The land trust plans to acquire conservation easements on 855 acres owned by Maine Water Co. by the end of 2017 and another 550 acres by the end of 2019. These easements would prevent development but allow for public recreational access, Stewart said.
Construction of the 9-mile Round the Mountain Trail is planned to begin in the spring of 2018 and be completed in the latter part of 2019. This would create a trail from Route 17 in West Rockport through Hope and then end up at the northern side of Ragged Mountain, where the Camden Snow Bowl is located.
The conservation project will protect the lands around the main public water supply of Mirror Lake in West Rockport and the back-up supply at Grassy Pond, also in Rockport. Stewart said it also will protect the scenery and habitats for many species and provide recreational opportunities that will improve the health of the local population while maintaining a strong economy.
Tim Glidden, president of Maine Coast Heritage Trust, said the trails in the region are truly remarkable and will benefit the communities. He agreed that this would serve as a role model for the entire state.
Maine Water Co. has received regulatory approval from agencies including the Public Utilities Commission to be a partner in the project, Maine Water President Judy Wallingford said. Maine Water Co. will contribute $200,000 next year for the creation of the trail. She said money from the conservation easements will go back to ratepayers and be used for improving the infrastructure of the water system that dates back to 1885.
Maine Water Co. serves nearly 32,000 customers in 21 towns around the state. Mirror Lake and Grassy Pond provide water for Rockland, Camden, Rockport, Thomaston, Warren and Owls Head.
Town officials from Camden and Rockport were in attendance at Tuesday’s ceremony. Stewart said Camden recognizes this effort as an opportunity to expand the four-season recreational opportunities of the Ragged Mountain Recreation Area. The Midcoast Chapter of the New England Mountain Bike Association and the Trail Runners of Midcoast Maine have endorsed the project, which will greatly expand the amount of available trail for recreation.
Pen Bay Medical Center in Rockport also has endorsed the project because it promotes community wellness, while the Penobscot Bay Regional Chamber of Commerce supports the trail’s ability to strengthen the area’s year-round economy, the land trust pointed out.
This collaboration with Maine Coast Heritage Trust will complete the single largest project in the Coastal Mountain Land Trust’s history. The land trust is celebrating its 30th anniversary. Coastal Mountains Land Trust was established as the local conservation organization dedicated to permanently protecting, caring for and making publicly available important natural areas in the communities of the western Penobscot Bay region
Thirteen years ago, Coastal Mountains’ goal was to conserve Bald and Ragged Mountains, which covers 3,470-acre area in Camden, Hope and Rockport. Since then, Coastal Mountains has protected more than 50 percent of the area. The project announced Tuesday would be a major leap forward, Stewart said, bringing the protected areas to 85 percent.