December 20, 2012

Prized land preserved along Grand Lake Stream

By North Cairn
Staff Writer

A partnership between the state and a local land trust has resulted in an agreement to preserve more than 21,800 acres around Grand Lake Stream in Washington County for public recreation and forestry projects.

"Forever," emphasized Mark Berry, executive director of the Downeast Lakes Land Trust, which is based in Grand Lake Stream.

The state announced the purchase of the conservation easement on Tuesday. The agreement, acquired primarily with federal and state money, provides access to and protection for 17 miles of shoreline on West Grand, Big, and Lower Oxbrook lakes, along with frontage on Big Musquash Stream.

It also conserves a quarter mile on the west side of Grand Lake Stream above Big Falls, said Berry.

The conservation easement will be held by the Division of Parks and Public Lands within the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. The Downeast Lakes Land Trust will establish a $200,000 endowment to support the state's ongoing responsibilities for the property.

The West Grand Lake Community Forest Project includes, in part, the $7.28 million purchase of an easement on the acreage by the state, with $5.5 million in federal funding from the U.S. Forest Service Forest Legacy Program, $1.25 million from the state's Land for Maine's Future board and some private funding. An agreement with the landowner, Lyme Timber Co. of Hanover, N.H., includes a provision giving the trust the option to purchase the acreage for $19 million within three years. The trust has already obtained $12 million, leaving about $7 million to be raised by 2015.

Lyme Timber, which will retain ownership of the land, acquired the acreage in 2008 from the Webber family and Prentiss & Carlisle Co. of Bangor. The land trust negotiated an option with Lyme Timber that included the right to purchase the conservation easement.

"The investment by Lyme Timber in 2008 made this project possible, and their experience and commitment to conservation has been essential to the success of this effort," said Berry.

The easement, known as the West Grand Lake Community Forest Project, ensures public access to the recreation area, popular for hunting, fishing, snowmobiling, hiking, canoeing and other recreational activities, in perpetuity. At the same time, it makes certain that the lands will continue to be available for sustainable foresting, Berry said.

The West Grand Lake area, part of the St. Croix watershed, hosts landlocked salmon, square-tailed trout, lake trout and small-mouthed bass and has been recognized as one of the best game fishing and fly-fishing areas in the world, as well as other big game such as bear and deer.

Berry credited a combination of sensitivity to economic opportunities and stewardship of recreational tourism for the successful partnership that began with establishment of the Downeast Lakes Land Trust in 2001. At that time, the trust set a goal of preserving 370,000 acres of northern Maine forest and lakes land. Tuesday's announcement means that goal has largely been met.

The West Grand Lake Forest property wraps around the village of Grand Lake Stream, and is adjacent to other conservation lands, including the Downeast Lakes Land Trust's 33,708-acre Farm Cove Community Forest. The lands are part of a broader landscape of nearly 1.4 million contiguous acres of public and private conservation lands extending across the border into New Brunswick, Canada.

"Maine's natural resources are the backbone of our economy," Gov. Paul R. LePage said in a written announcement. "The Grand Lake Stream area has outstanding fisheries, wildlife and scenic resources that make it an attraction for recreationists from around the world while supporting the highest concentration of Registered Maine Guides in the state."

The easement will be paid for with state, federal and private money and protects 93 miles of frontage on streams, including Big Musquash Stream and a number of native brook trout streams. The easement also provides an option for the state to construct a new carry-in boat access on the east shore of West Grand Lake.

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