When I first heard about this project last year, I was much impressed with its scope and audacity. The plan has the power to greatly enhance the character of the village and also to transform the lakes themselves, potentially reversing the long slide in water quality over the last 100 years.I am sitting on our deck at camp looking out over Long Pond in the Belgrades with a gentle breeze from the south making it a lovely morning. This post-July 4th week has turned out to be a good week to be at camp. Shade from our big pines and the nearly constant breeze up the lake have made even the hottest days quite livable, even pleasant. And this has been a big week in Belgrade Lakes. There was the 4th of July parade, of course, bringing everyone out to share in the community spirit of this lovely village. However, the real news was the official kickoff of the Docks to Doorways Conservation Initiative that was announced just before the parade.

Docks to Doorways began more than a year ago when a small group of far-sighted community leaders realized that there was an opportunity to reopen water access to the village from Great Pond by purchasing two significant parcels of land in the center of town.

This was the kind of opportunity that might never come again, and a group quickly formed, led by the Belgrade Lakes Association, the Belgrade Regional Conservation Alliance and Colby College, to better define the project and determine how much money would need to be raised to make it happen.

The plan that was developed is both exciting and ambitious. The project will retain the current Post Office building in the center of town and restore the public docks behind it, along with the historic mail boathouse that served Great Pond for generations. There will also be retail space and even a small park.

The centerpiece of the campaign, located on the second property just uptown, will be the Maine Lakes Resource Center, a 3,500-square-foot building that will provide field research space for Colby environmental scientists and offices for the BLA and BRCA. The Center will provide practical information on how to improve the water quality of the lakes.

When I first heard about this project last year, I was much impressed with its scope and audacity. The plan has the power to greatly enhance the character of the village and also to transform the lakes themselves, potentially reversing the long slide in water quality over the last 100 years.

And yet the $2.5 million price tag struck me as unrealistic for such a small community.

Diane Day Oliver, owner of Day’s Store and a member of Docks to Doorways steering committee, reassured me that such fundraising support was indeed realistic — suggesting last week that I be sure to come to the July 4th Kick Off.

Sure enough, at the ceremony fundraising committee co-chair Gail Rizzo announced that the campaign had already received pledges for $1.5 million from lead donors and a $450,000 challenge grant from the Harold Alfond Foundation.

The Alfond challenge grant will match the balance of the fundraising required dollar for dollar, but the total must be raised by October of this year.

What is exciting about the Docks to Doorways initiative is that it is a partnership of the many. This is the kind of community effort that could serve as a model for others in the state.

Moreover, the work that will be done at the Maine Lakes Resource Center could have impact not only in improving water quality in the Belgrades but also in practices that could improve lakes all across Maine.

The week of celebration in the Belgrades ended with a nostalgic dinner at the Village Inn — turning the clocks back 70 years to, as the special menu said, “fine dining on the Real Golden Pond.”

Masterfully restored wooden boats lined the banks behind the Inn. We were treated to a keynote by “Golden Pond” author Ernest Thompson. Thompson has summered on Great Pond for more than 60 years. It was those youthful summers that inspired his book and the subsequent movie (shot, unfortunately, in New Hampshire).

Thompson warmed our hearts with reminisces of early days on Great Pond, most particularly about the two legendary girls’ camps, Runoia and Abena, that featured prominently in his canoe adventures. Those camps may be gone, but their spirit lives on.

Thompson concluded his remarks with a plea for all of us to pull together to ensure that the wonderful traditions of life on these Maine lakes not fall victim to environmental degradation. We all left feeling something of his passion and commitment — and better for it.

This Docks to Doorways Initiative may indeed succeed. How fortunate we are to be able to kindle this kind of commitment in Belgrade Lakes.

Ron Bancroft is an independent strategy consultant located in Portland. He can be contacted at: [email protected]ancroftandcompany.com