AUGUSTA — The city’s Bond Brook Recreation Area will get $50,000 in improvements funded with money from a settlement reached between a wind energy project developer and a nonprofit group that opposes wind projects.

Friends of Maine’s Mountains recently awarded the city a $50,000 grant for capital improvements to the 300-acre recreation area, which features trails for hiking, mountain biking, skiing, snowshoeing, birding and other non-motorized recreational uses.

The improvements will be determined by city officials and the Augusta Trails, the city’s partner for the past eight years in the development of more than 13 miles of trails at the recreation area tucked between the Augusta State Airport, Bond Brook and urban areas of the city.

The grant requires no matching local funds.

“This is just great. It requires no local match and it’s all going toward stuff we’d be trying to raise money as a community to do over in that area,” said City Manager William Bridgeo.

WILDERNESS IN URBAN SETTING

In general, the funds, part of a number of recent grant awards from Friends of Maine’s Mountains totaling $1 million, are meant to pay for projects that help conserve natural resources.

Bill Rogers, president of Augusta Trails, recently told city councilors that the money will help make the wooded recreation an even better four-season attraction. Rogers said it has been 10 years since the city authorized acquiring additional land to create the recreation area, and eight years since councilors authorized trail development there.

“They’re well-designed and they’re exciting and they’re really challenging,” he said. “And it is in a wilderness setting really in the heart of an urban setting here. On any given day there are walkers, hikers, runners, bikers, birders and, in season, skiers and snowshoers using the trail system.”

Rogers said that because of the location, some people use the trails on their lunch hour. And because of the size of the park, it’s possible to ride a 7-mile loop and “not see another person.”

“It’s that much of a wilderness area and, again, in the heart of the city,” he said. “It is such a gem. This grant will give us the impetus to work with city staff … on a plan to best use this money for continued development.”

The recent annual Treadfest, which featured mountain bike races, drew more than 300 people to the recreation area to participate over two days, June 24 and 25.

The recreation area is accessed primarily via Tall Pines Way, a dirt road into the site built with help from the Maine Army National Guard off Bond Brook Road. There’s another entrance in the cemetery adjacent to Augusta State Airport.

About a half-dozen cars were parked at the recreation area on a recent weekday afternoon, presumably as their drivers used the trails.

Andy Bartleet, of Bethel, emerged from a wooded trail to load his fat-tired bike into his truck. He said it was his first time there, and he had never heard about the area until he found it via an app on his phone. He said he decided to ride the trails while he was in the area to do some shopping.

Asked what improvements he thought should be made with the $50,000 grant, he suggested more maps and signs at trail intersections so trail users know where they are and where they are headed.

“I think it was great,” he said after his ride. “If I knew where I was going I’m sure it would be all that much more fun. I’ll definitely be back.”

The source of the grant funds is a settlement reached between Friends of Maine’s Mountains and Blue Sky West LLC in 2015, when the friends group that opposes wind energy projects in Maine agreed to drop a lawsuit against SunEdison, which is based in Missouri. The company developed the Bingham Wind Project in Maine’s Piscataquis and Somerset counties in 2016.

The settlement specified that the wind project developer would provide $2.5 million for conservation projects across Maine, to be distributed through Friends of Maine’s Mountains.

GROUP GRANTS TO CITIES UNCOMMON

Other recipients of the latest round of grant awards included the Belgrade Regional Conservation Alliance, $50,000, which was to help pay for the acquisition of Kimball Pond in the Kennebec Highlands; the town of Fayette, $50,000, for making a wheelchair-accessible trail in the Parker Pond Headland; and the Forest Society of Maine, $95,000, for land preservation projects.

Chris O’Neil, vice president of government affairs for Friends of Maine’s Mountains, said most of the grant awards went to non-governmental organizations, but the city of Augusta project was considered “because it instills an appreciation for the outdoors despite being in one of Maine’s largest cities.”

He said he’s hopeful that the grant award will, indirectly, help the friends group inform the area’s residents and recreation area users about what the group believes are problems with wind energy.

Friends of Maine’s Mountain’s mission, O’Neil said in an email, “is to educate the public about wind energy’s massive negative impact and tiny positive benefit. If this award helps to develop anti-wind awareness in Augusta, then it’s a win-win.”

O’Neil said the grant recipients are expected to use the funds by the end of 2018.

Keith Edwards can be contacted at 621-5647 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: kedwardskj