The easement around Moosehead Lake announced last week by Plum Creek was praised by conservation groups that helped with the deal — The Nature Conservancy and Forest Society of Maine.

However, among the people who live in the Moosehead region and make a living off outdoor recreation, feelings were mixed, as some worried the proposed development would change the wild character of the region.

“Anybody who has been here and likes being on the edge of the wild is nervous,” said John Willard, the 30-year owner of The Birches Resort in Rockwood.

The deal proposes two resorts, one near Lily Bay and the other around Big Moose Mountain. It also protects 363,000 acres of working forestland, connecting it to an existing corridor of protected land that’s 2 million acres in size, according to the Conservancy.

Mike Tetreault, executive director of The Nature Conservancy in Maine, said the hope in facilitating the land deal was to help the struggling economy in the region, which is dependent upon ecotourism dollars. Keeping the land open will allow for continued use by fishermen, hunters, snowmobilers, campers and hikers.

The region offers miles of scenic snowmobile trails; world-class wild brook trout fishing; big-game hunting opportunities for deer, moose and bear; and a wilderness-like camping experience.

But to some like Willard, the deal poses a threat to the pristine nature of the region.

“I don’t dislike Plum Creek. Certainly we’ll get to snowmobile on the land. But we have to put up with the downside of development,” Willard said.

Sally Johnson, owner of Moosehead Hills Cabins, also believes the wilderness experience around parts of Maine’s biggest lake will be lost. Johnson’s cabins are located at three sites around Moosehead, including near Lily Bay State Park, where tent sites can play host to wandering moose.

“Honestly, I have mixed feelings. On the one hand it’s great to have the easement, but I do believe some of the development will take away from the peacefulness and serenity here, as well as people’s ability to see wildlife,” Johnson said.

In Rockwood, Registered Maine Guide Joe Munster wasn’t sure, either.

“I was born and raised in Rockwood, and change comes hard to people here. Landowners have rights, too, I guess. I have a lot of mixed feelings,” Munster said.

Others in the Moosehead region believe the Plum Creek land deal will bring in tourists and improve the economy in a rural area.

“We take it for granted that the land is accessible. Now it’s a sure thing. That land is very important for the local economy,” said Stuart Watt, owner of Indian Hill Trading Post.

At Historic Pittston Farm, Tony Astbury also thought the easement offered assurances that were needed in these times of land development.

“That land brings in campers who hunt and fish, and snowmobilers and hikers, the whole nine yards,” said Astbury.

Meanwhile, Dan Legere, owner of the 30-year-old Maine Guide Fly Shop in Greenville, said the results on both fronts were good: The protection of forestland, and development that will introduce more people to Moosehead Lake.

“When Squaw Mountain (ski area) was open, a percentage of the people who went there fell in love with the area. They got on top of that mountain and looked out on that lake, and the next summer they were in my shop to fish here,” Legere said.

Still many people in this famous outdoor destination wonder what’s next now that a deal that dragged on for most of 10 years is done.

“If it all gets done, it will have a big impact. There will be more people. And a lot of people think that’s a great thing,” Willard said.

“But I’ve lived here 42 years, and there is a reason I’m here.”

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

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