ELLSWORTH, Maine — A warm wind ruffled the surface of Branch Lake in Ellsworth, as the sun began its slow descent on June 21, the longest day of the year. Two local residents paddled their canoe into a quiet cove, where they were surrounded by nothing but clear water, granite boulders and tall spruce trees. They had a few hours left in the day to cast their lines and test their luck with the lake’s salmon, bass and togue population.
“It’s beautiful and it’s quiet,” said one of the two anglers, Eric Martin, 25, of Orono, who fishes on the lake at least once a week to unwind after a day in the office. “Usually I don’t see another person when I’m out and about.”
Sprawling over 2,703 acres, Branch Lake is the singular source of drinking water for the town of Ellsworth. It’s also one of 35 outdoor destinations listed on the new Land for Maine’s Future Passport, a program launched this month in celebration of the 30-year anniversary for the Land for Maine’s Future program. Released in June, the passport will challenge people to get outdoors and enjoy the many properties the LMF has helped to conserve over the past three decades.
“No matter where you are in our state, you’re never far from a special place that’s available to the public today because of the Land for Maine’s Future program,” said Kate Dempsey, State Director of The Nature Conservancy in Maine, in a prepared statement. “Best of all, since LMF’s work has been funded by Maine people for the past 30 years, these properties belong to all of us forever.”
LMF was established in 1987, when Maine citizens voted to fund $35 million to purchase lands of statewide importance. Since that time, Maine voters have consistently approved five additional LMF land bonds, replenishing funds in 1999, 2005, 2007, 2010 and 2012, demonstrating strong public support for the program.
To date, LMF has helped protect more than 600,000 acres of land in Maine through matching funds, forming partnerships with conservation organizations at all levels of society, from town parks and recreation departments to the federal agencies.
“We’re really focused on reminding Mainers of how important this program has been in all corners of the state,” said LMF Director of External Affairs Thomas Abello. “Those [LMF-funded] projects include every county in the state.”
The LMF Passport features 35 recommended itineraries, paired with suggested outdoor activities, such as fishing, hiking and ATV riding. However, participants can customize their adventures by using the new LMF website, www.landformainesfuture.org, where there are descriptions of more than 150 properties that have been conserved with the help of LMF funding.
“We want it to be really flexible and really easy for people to get out and visit LMF sites,” said Abello. “We listed 35 properties there, but on the righthand side of that [on the passport] is kind of a wildcard category. So if there’s an LMF property near you that’s not on the list, you can write that one in as one of your visits to participate in the program.”
Passport holders who explore at least three LMF destinations this summer and upload a photo of their passport to the “ LMF Works for ME” photo gallery at www.landformainesfuture.org, will be awarded a “LMF Works for ME” flashlight carabiner, and they will be entered into a drawing for prizes, including a $250 gift certificate to L.L.Bean and an overnight stay at an Appalachian Mountain Club Wilderness Lodge in the Moosehead Region.
In addition, anyone who uploads an image of themselves enjoying LMF destinations to the photo gallery will be entered into the prize drawing. And Instagram users can simply post images using #LMFWorksforME to instantly upload their images to the LMF gallery.
Both programs run from June 21 to Oct. 1, when winners will be selected at random and announced. There is a limit of one entry per person.
“The Land for Maine’s Future program embodies our long-standing commitment to outdoor conservation, the protection of the environment and public access to outdoor recreational opportunities,” said Janet Wyper, L.L.Bean manager of community relations, in a prepared statement. “We are excited to be part of this effort and hope to see many Maine families exploring these incredible places the LMF program, state agencies, land trusts, municipalities, and other partners have conserved over the past thirty years.”
Some of the well-known outdoor destinations that LMF funds have helped conserve is the Great Pond Wildlands in Orland, Camden Hills State Park, the Kennebec River Estuary, Sandy Point Beach in Stockton Springs, Mount Kineo and Scarborough Beach.
“LMF has been an important partner with local land trusts all over the state [by] supporting projects,” said Jeff Romano, public policy manager for the Maine Coast Heritage Trust, one of the state’s largest land trusts, managing more than 150 conservation easements, and owning and managing more than 50 preserves scattered along the Maine coast.
Not only does LMF match funds needed to purchase lands for conservation of wildlife and public recreation. The program has also helped fund the purchase of dozens of farms and working waterfronts to improve the health of Maine’s economy.
“The idea of the 30th anniversary [programs] is just to make sure Maine people understand the places that have been protected thanks to the investments they’ve supported as Maine voters over the past 30 years,” Romano said. “I has improved communities, and made Maine a better place to live.”
In 2010, the Land for Maine’s Future Board supported the acquisition of the 239-acre Branch Lake Public Forest in Ellsworth, collaborating with the Frenchman Bay Conservancy, City of Ellsworth, the Trust for Public Land, and the Forest Society of Maine. This public forest is now a part of a 1,164-acre conservation area that includes a 3.1-mile network of hiking trails and a hand carry boat launch on the scenic lake.
It’s a place for hiking, dog walking, wildlife observation, berry picking, paddling, fishing and swimming. And on June 21, it was the perfect place to be for the summer solstice.
Standing in his sturdy canoe, a boat he’d bought secondhand, Martin cast his line into the clean water of Branch Lake, as his friend, Morgan Cushing, 23, of Glenburn, cast her line in the other direction. They’d be out there until the sun went down, paddling around tiny islands and swapping lures.
The breeze died. The lake was nearly as smooth as glass, reflecting the dense forest that lined the shore. The sky began to dim, and at last, having only snagged a few small chain pickerel, they reeled in their lines and headed toward the landing.