New growth forest thrives on the 120 acre parcel where Frenchville established a conservation easement. Credit: Hannah Catlin / St. John Valley Times

FRENCHVILLE, Maine — Off of the back roads of Frenchville, 120 acres of woodland, field and wetland is now protected from development forever.

With a $55,500 grant from the Maine Natural Resource Conservation Program, Frenchville has placed a conservation easement on a plot of tax-acquired property that the University of Maine at Fort Kent and the St. John Valley Technology Center have been using for forestry and ecology research.

It’s also the only plot of public land in the town that has walking and biking trails which don’t allow the use of ATVs or other motorized vehicles.

Maine is one of the most privately owned states in the nation — only about 10 percent of all land in the state is public. While northern Maine remains relatively undeveloped even on private land, the easement will prevent all future development and subdivision of the conservation property, leaving it in its natural state for the use of future generations.

Frenchville has owned the land for years, and wildlife biologist and habitat management expert Steve Young has been mapping and maintaining it since 2006. Young is part of the Upper St. John River Organization, which is a land management and land trust organization in northernmost Maine.

The process of getting the conservation easement began in 2009, when Frenchville then-town manager Philip Levesque gave Young the go-ahead to look for funding to protect the parcel of land that’s now Frenchville’s only public nature conservation.

“Our objective is to maintain all the ecosystems, maintain biodiversity and things like that,” Young said. “We’re trying to promote [the St. John Valley’s] woods as woods for habitat — not for fiber.”

Young has worked with local students to study the flora and fauna already on the property — creating maps to track growth and species competition in different parts of the land — as well as to plant new wildlife. Milkweed, red oak and apple saplings planted by students are sprouting in the few acres of field at the edge of the property.

Bear, moose, hawks and even a rare species of inland sandpiper have all been spotted on the property. One of the many birdhouses in the conservation area is habitually knocked over by one of the forest’s larger residents — Young suspects a bear.

As an educational tool, hands-on experience is especially useful to students studying forestry, Young said.

“It puts into perspective how long it takes,” Young said. “If you cut cedar out, it’s probably 200 years before you see it again.”

Frenchville’s Dark Sky Observatory is also stationed on the property, at the end of a rocky dirt road overlooking the field. The Upper St. John River Organization is measuring the levels of light pollution at that location with the hopes of certifying the observatory with an official dark sky designation.

Frenchville Town Manager David Cyr received a $55,500 check from the Maine Natural Resource Conservation Program that finalized the easement on the land. Cyr said it’s nice to know that the area will always be a spot for people in Frenchville to study and enjoy nature.

While the revenue is a nice addition to the town’s budget, Cyr said that wasn’t necessarily the intention when his predecessors tapped Young to help preserve the land years ago. The fact that Young stuck it out for more than a decade to see the project to completion is remarkable in its own right.

“A lesser mortal would have given up long ago,” Cyr said.

The land conservation area remains open to the public.

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the name of the Upper St. John River Organization.

Hannah Catlin

Hannah Catlin is a reporter at the St. John Valley Times/Fiddlehead Focus in Madawaska, Maine.