ROCKPORT, Maine — For more than a decade, the Coastal Mountains Land Trust has worked to protect the land surrounding two sources of water for about 20,000 midcoast customers. With the recent $500,000 purchase of a conservation easement on 500 acres of watershed property, its lofty goal has been realized.
Paired with another easement secured last year, the land trust has conserved more than 1,300 acres around Mirror Lake and Grassy Pond, the primary and backup water supply for six midcoast towns.
“When a utility like Maine Water owns the real estate and says it will protect it, as we have for decades, there is no legal requirement for the utility to do that,” Maine Water Co. President Rick Knowlton said. “[These easements] confirm a permanent relationship that can’t be undone.”
Maine Water Co. will continue to own the land surrounding Mirror Lake and Grassy Pond, but the conservation easements purchased by the Coastal Mountains Land Trust will legally prohibit development on the land and will keep the area open to the public for recreation opportunities, according to Coastal Mountains Land Trust Executive Director Ian Stewart.
The most recent easement purchase around Grassy Pond was made possible by a $500,000 grant from the Land For Maine’s Future program.
The land trust began eyeing the area surrounding Mirror Lake, Grassy Pond, Bald Mountain and Ragged Mountain nearly 20 years ago because of the unique subalpine habitat these mountains and bodies of water supported so close to the coast, Stewart said.
But once the land trust realized that the water company owned a majority of this land, protecting the watershed from development quickly became another reason to conserve the land.
“We started wanting to conserve this area for habitat reasons, but then the water supply became a big goal,” Stewart said. “Land really serves as a filter, so by protecting the watershed entirely it really gives a level of protection against any kind of water quality issues.”
Mirror Lake and Grassy Pond straddle either side of Route 17 near the Rockport-Hope town line. For 130 years, Mirror Lake has been a water source for nearby communities. Today it provides water for Camden, Rockland, Rockport and Thomaston, as well as parts of Owls Head and Warren. Grassy Pond serves as the backup water source for the area.
Half of the proceeds Maine Water Co. earned from the sale of the easement will go to infrastructure improvements, and the other half will be returned to customers in the form of a credit on their water bills, according to Knowlton.
By protecting the watershed around Mirror Lake and Grassy Pond from any future development, Knowlton said the first line of defense against contaminants in the water supply has been secured.
“What undeveloped watersheds do is prevent most man-made contaminants from showing up in the water supply,” Knowlton said. “It’s the first barrier to providing great public health.”
The easements also fit into the land trust’s goal of conserving a 3,500-acre area around Bald and Ragged Mountain. To date the land trust had fulfilled more than 90 percent of that goal, according to Stewart.
Last year, the land trust began work on the new Round the Mountain Trail on Ragged Mountain. While the trails that will be developed on the land around Grassy Pond will not immediately be connected to the Round the Mountain Trail — which is slated for opening next fall — Stewart said the long-term goal is to have an interconnected trail system in the area.
“The trail system that is coming will make the area much more relevant to a lot of people, “ Stewart said.