CASCO – Loon Echo Land Trust has a year to raise $700,000 to purchase Hacker’s Hill and make sure the popular viewing spot remains open to the public.

The group received its first major pledge for the project Wednesday when residents of Casco, home to the landmark and tourist destination, voted at their town meeting to donate $75,000 toward preserving the land.

“I think we could have gotten more,” said Grant Plummer, chairman of the Casco Open Space Commission.

The vote in support of the donation, which Plummer said was overwhelmingly favorable, was met with a round of applause.

Carrie Walia, executive director of the land trust, wasn’t surprised about the outpouring of support, considering the number of phone calls she received from concerned residents when the hilltop clearing and surrounding 52 acres went up for sale in the fall of 2009.

“That really caused a lot of public stir,” she said.

Walia said the property, located on Quaker Ridge, was identified by the founders of the land trust in 1987 as “an important piece of the landscape.”

Faced with the prospect of the land’s sale to a private developer, the group — which had had informal conversations with the property owners — started trying in earnest, soon after the land was put on the market, to find a way to keep it open to the public.

“We sort of forced our hand to see if we could get people to step up to the plate,” said Jeff Hall, who owns the property with his 74-year-old father, Conrad Hall.

The result of the yearlong negotiations was an option agreement signed last month, in which the land trust would take over 27 acres on Hacker’s Hill if it can raise enough money by next May to purchase the land. The Halls have taken the rest of the land off the market for now, and hope eventually it will all be preserved.

The capital campaign will officially begin next month, around the same time the land trust expects to find out whether it will receive a $350,000 grant from the state’s Land for Maine’s Future program.

Walia said the land trust will likely apply for grants from a few other local and regional foundations, but mostly, she said, the money will have to come from the community.

“There’s so much public support,” she said. “As long as the people come forward, we won’t have a problem.”

The clearing atop Hacker’s Hill, about five miles north of Sebago Lake, was created decades ago by the late Hacker Hall and since has been maintained by his family, who in recent years decided the upkeep was too costly and time-consuming to continue.

The hill is open to cars during daylight hours every day except Tuesday and Thursday. Visitors can still walk up the 400-foot-long driveway on those days.

“It’s a huge commitment,” Jeff Hall said about the mowing, gatekeeping and cleaning required. “You’re kind of married to the hill.”

The panoramic view from the top looks out over miles of mountains and lakes that span several towns. Walia said the attraction represents the essence of the region.

“People are coming to this area for the scenic beauty,” she said. “Hacker’s Hill is a big part of that. It really is the lake region.”

With a road right up to the top, Plummer said, the hill enables people of any age or physical condition to take in nature.

“It’s an access point to the great outdoors for people that don’t go out and hike and bike and ski,” he said.

Sarah Lockridge of Windham said Hacker’s Hill is a great place to bring her kids, but Tuesday she was enjoying the view with her father, who was visiting from Ohio.

“It’s just so beautiful,” said Ernest Lockridge. “If I were a rich man, I’d buy it myself.”

Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be reached at 791-6364 or at:

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