AUGUSTA — Howard Hill, 164 acres that provide a wooded backdrop to the State House, now belongs to the Kennebec Land Trust.

Land trust officials closed on the property last week and plan to eventually give it to the city to be preserved, they hope, forever.

They did so without $337,500 in voter-approved Land for Maine’s Future funds awarded to assist in the purchase.

The money was held up when Gov. Paul LePage refused to issue $6.5 million in bonds approved by voters in 2010 and $5 million approved in 2012. Those bonds include money the Land for Maine’s Future program has approved for 30 conservation projects, including the $1.2 million Howard Hill project.

To replace the state money and still meet its deadline to close on the Howard Hill property, the land trust took out a loan from Kennebec Savings Bank. Land trust board members said they expect the Land For Maine’s Future program to resume awarding money after the Legislature reconvenes in January 2016 so the trust can repay the loan.

At a celebration of its 25th-anniversary capital campaign Thursday, land trust leaders announced $961,000 has been pledged toward the $1.2 million fundraising goal for the Howard Hill project with $438,000 of that received already. However, that $961,000 includes the $337,500 that LePage refuses to release.

“The biggest hole in our budget is the big number Land for Maine’s Future awarded us, but which we have not received,” said Howard Lake, a member of the land trust’s board of directors. “We really hope there can be a resolution for this and other projects also funded by the bonds the governor has refused to issue.”

LePage has acknowledged he held back the Land for Maine’s Future money to try to gain support for a proposal to increase timber harvesting on state-owned land to help pay for home-heating programs. He has also asked the Office of Policy and Management to review the Kennebec Land Trust, and his three appointees to the Land for Maine’s Future board have been absent from its last two meetings, leaving the board without a quorum.

The land is made up of three parcels previously owned by Sumner Lipman and two corporations run by him and valued at about $171,000 for tax purposes, according to city assessment records.

The scenic, undeveloped property, accessible from a number of informal access points in Augusta, could provide and protect recreational opportunities, scenic views and wildlife habitat a short walk from the urban areas of both Augusta and Hallowell.

City Manager William Bridgeo praised the land trust for saving the property, which he said he had feared would be developed.

Mary Denison, president of the Kennebec Land Trust, said the group already was planning a major capital campaign as part of its 25th anniversary to increase the number of acres it can help preserve, establish endowment and conservation funds, and increase membership, when the opportunity came along to acquire and preserve Howard Hill. So the group ended up conducting two major fundraising campaigns at once.

“Everyone stepped up, especially in the face of the tragic news about Land for Maine’s Future,” she said, praising donors and fundraisers.

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

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj