Once, American Indians stored supplies in the safety and cool of a cave in the rocks along the untamed Saco River.

Part of the historic Salmon Falls area, where salmon once migrated up the Saco River to spawning grounds, the cave was flooded when a dam was built downstream. Today, the section along the river known as Indian Cellar is a popular recreation site. And, a group of Buxton and Hollis residents aim to keep it that way.

“It remains a spectacular place,” said Peter Eliot of Buxton, one of 15 members of the Indian Cellar Property Preservation Committee, formed to save the historic property from development.

Across the river from Buxton’s Pleasant Point Park, the 58-acre Indian Cellar site rests in Hollis. Saving the land from being carved into house lots would preserve the site in its pristine, wooded state for public use.

“It’s a regional-use property,” said Louis Emery of Buxton, a member of the preservation committee.

The effort has until July to raise $830,000.

“I have every confidence we’re going to make our goal,” said Eliot.

Optimism for the preservation project runs high on both sides of the river, the boundary separating Buxton and Hollis.

“I think it’s definitely going to make it,” Barbara Sheahan of Hollis said. “It’s work until the last dollar is in.”

If the effort is successful, a Hollis landowner, Rodney Littlefield, has agreed to donate an additional 18 acres, making 76 acres in the preserve. Sheahan said the entire package has been appraised for more than $1 million.

Hollis Selectman Stuart Gannett said this week citizens and the town got involved after a developer, Maine Woodland Properties, proposed building 14 houses on the site about a year ago. Citizens contacted The Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit group with an office in Portland, to help save the site. The Trust for Public Land negotiated an agreement with Maine Woodland Properties to buy the property by July of this year for $830,000. As part of that agreement, the town of Hollis would become owner of the property.

Following an “outpouring of people” at a Planning Board meeting when the development was proposed, Gannett said, Hollis voted in its town meeting last July to set aside $250,000 “as our share of the effort.”

Gannett described the site as an 11 on a scale of one to 10.

“An opportunity like this just doesn’t drop in your lap,” he said.

The citizens group now has more than $200,000 in pledges or donations toward its goal of $300,000. Emery said Poland Spring in Hollis has donated $50,000 this year.

Money would also be needed for an endowment to maintain the property after acquiring it.

This week, members of the group met with Wolfe Tone, project manager of The Trust for Public Land, to fill out an application for state money to help with the purchase. The application is due Tuesday.

“Our plan is unfolding well,” Tone said.

Tone hopes to receive $475,000 to $500,000 from a state program, Land for Maine’s Future. Tone said voters in November approved a bond referendum, which included $13.5 million for conservation of land. Tone is uncertain how much the group might be awarded for Indian Cellar.

“It’s competitive,” Tone said.

Indian Cellar would be free to the public, which would have access for hiking, snowshoeing, fishing and picnicking. But, Tone said, motorized vehicles wouldn’t be allowed. A road wouldn’t be built into the property.

Parking is available at a public lot at the intersection of Alfred Road and Route 202 across from the Salmon Falls Library.

There would be some improvements to trails through the Indian Cellar.

“The intent is to keep it in its natural state,” Tone said.

To increase community awareness, the citizens committee plans to present its plans to the Buxton-Hollis Historical Society at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, April 8, in the former church building on Salmon Falls Road, Buxton.

“It’s a real gem of potential park land,” Eliot said.

A CLOSER LOOK

Members of the Indian Cellar Property Preservation Committee will present details of plans to save the historic Indian Cellar site from development, at a meeting of the Buxton-Hollis Historical Society, Tuesday, April 8, at 7 p.m. The meeting is open to the public.

The society is located in the former church building on Salmon Falls Road, Buxton.

“It’s a real gem of potential park land,” Peter Eliot says as he surveys the Indian Cellar site along the Saco River. Eliot is a member of the Indian Cellar Property Preservation Committee, which is working to save the historic property from development.


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