Sedgwick group hopes to save Caterpillar Hill’s spectacular view, but needs help

Posted Nov. 03, 2013, at 2:31 p.m.
Last modified Nov. 03, 2013, at 6:33 p.m.

SEDGWICK, Maine — Between Brooksville and Deer Isle there is a place on Route 15 that has a spectacular view. On a typical weekend day, two to three cars are parked at a lookout point and visitors are taking in the scene of the blueberry barrens, sloping down toward Walker Pond. Beyond the pond, Penobscot Bay fills the space between Deer Isle, Vinalhaven and Isle au Haut, with the Camden Hills creating a distant backdrop.

For a decade, about 10 acres on the north end of this spot, known as Caterpillar Hill, have been for sale. One might expect a location like this to be swiped up right away, but a high property value and an unstable real estate market has prevented that from happening.

That is a relief for a nonprofit group, called the Caterpillar Hill Initiative, which has been working for eight of those 10 years to try to buy the property in order to turn the space into a community center. The nonprofit was founded by Kelly Mitchell, who runs a gallery in the building that sits on the property. After years of meager fundraising for an almost hopeless goal of raising $1.5 million, Mitchell now sees a window of opportunity: the price has dropped to $798,000.

The land is owned by Basil Ladd, who inherited it from his cousin, James Condon. The Condon family bought the property on Caterpillar Hill in the 1920s. The shingled, two-story building that now houses Mitchell’s gallery was built by the Condons originally to be a hot dog stand, then a restaurant that eventually made boiled lobster its speciality, according to Ladd.

“I can remember when I was a kid, I was up there a lot,” Ladd said. “I can remember them having the old figure bowls because you made such a mess.”

Ice cream was made on site from local creams and berries and everything was cooked on a wood stove.

James Condon died in 1987 and was survived by his brother, Charles, who lived in a nursing home and could not care for himself. In James’ will, he stipulated that the 176 acres of land that he owned be sold off in pieces in order to pay for his brother’s care. Ladd was the trustee of the estate, responsible for selling the land and caring for Charles, and would inherit what was left when Charles died.

“After that was exhausted,” Ladd said of his cousin’s land that he did sell, “I had to put up the remaining property for sale. That’s when Kelly expressed an interest.”

Mitchell had been operating the gallery for eight years. She did not have the money to buy it, so she started the Caterpillar Hill Initiative.

Over the years, many residents have been supportive of her efforts, but some have been suspicious.

People wondered if she was fundraising to keep open a for-profit business, said Dylan Howard, the president of Caterpillar Hill Initiative’s board.

Now, Howard and Mitchell are making efforts to be more transparent about their vision for the property and they are trying to get more serious about their efforts to fundraise.

“We want people to own this,” said Mitchell of the project.

They hope to build a colorful, tiled amphitheater that would be a space for concerts and presentations. They also envision a small museum and would like to keep the gallery open. To raise money, Howard and Mitchell have been selling tiles, priced between $15 and $10,000, which will make up the floor of the amphitheater.

They have a long way to go.

“Exactly two weeks ago today, CHI had $3,500 in cash and approximately $3,400 in unpaid bills,” said James Wadman, a tax accountant who is handling the nonprofit’s finances.

Howard, an eager and enthusiastic filmmaker in New York who is originally from the area, plans to start a fundraising campaign on Indiegogo, a crowdsourcing site that gives individuals a platform for raising money from around the world. He and Mitchell also hope to eventually merge the for-profit gallery with the nonprofit so that proceeds from the gallery can go towards the community center project, he said.

A 2009 feasibility study conducted by Jerry Bley, a principal at a land use consulting group based in Readfield, indicated that the project was possible given the public and private fundraising potential in the area, and the public’s interest in the view.

Charles Condon died in 2011, so the urgency to sell has gone down a little, but not much, because of the taxes Ladd has to pay on the land. However, he is willing to sell an option on the property, as he did in 2005 for the nonprofit.

“I think it would be good because it would keep it for everyone to see in its natural state,” said Ladd of the potential project. “But I can’t withhold selling it or selling it at a reduced price.”