AUGUSTA — The state’s largest sportsmens group is currently developing a 40-acre parcel land in Augusta on which kids and their families will be able to learn about hunting, trapping, fishing, wildlife and the outdoors.

The land, just north of Route 3, was donated to the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine last year. For the last few months, the group has been clearing brush, selectively removing trees, constructing an access road and digging a one-acre pond that will eventually be stocked with trout.

That’s the first phase of the project. Over the coming years, the group intends to build trails, camp sites and an archery range with 3-D models of animals, all in consultation with wildlife biologists who can help improve the habitat.

“We don’t want it to look like a national park,” said David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance. “We don’t want to drive the wildlife off.”

The goal of the project is to find out what outdoor skills Maine families want to learn using surveys, then to use the property to hold free-of-charge classes and programs on those subjects, said Trahan.

It also plans to make the land available to visitors and school groups and to open it up for hunting, but Trahan noted it must still work out details for when and how that will be done. Already, it’s hosted a couple classes, including one session on outdoor baking.

The recreation area is part of a larger effort by the Sportsman’s Alliance to counter a decline in the number of Americans who hunt and fish. That trend has threatened conservation programs funded by license fees and special taxes, according to a March report by National Public Radio.

An excavator digs the hole that will become a pond in the new Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine outdoor area on July 14 in Augusta. Staff photo by Joe Phelan

While the Sportsman’s Alliance has long been a force in Maine politics, Trahan said it’s now trying to expand its programming to offer classes, workshops and activities that make the outdoors more palatable to children and families, some of whom may be attached to their mobile devices or scared off by the idea of ticks.

“I think the organization needs to change,” Trahan said.

The forested land was donated to the Sportsman’s Alliance by the estate of Patricia Payne-Doherty, a New Jersey woman who wanted it to remain publicly accessible for wildlife conservation and youth development. It’s accessible from Route 3, in the area just west of Church Hill Road. It’s a short drive from the office and conference space that the Sportsman’s Alliance owns on Church Hill Road.

“It’s a huge gift from the Payne family,” Trahan said.

The organization plans to take several steps that may appeal to people who wouldn’t otherwise want to venture outside.

In a nod to young peoples interest in online activities, the organization has set up game cameras around the property. Eventually, Trahan said, visitors who encounter the cameras may be able to inspect the latest photos on them, revealing the deer, coyote, partridge or other beasts that call central Maine home.

The group also is focused on the health and safety of people who will visit the site. To that end, it plans to sprinkle a chemical along some trails to repel ticks, Trahan said.

He stressed that the land will be open to visitors even if their interests are not strictly hunting-related, but the outdoors generally. However, for safety reasons, it probably won’t be available to hikers during some hunting seasons.

Trahan also said that it will be important to keep the land conserved if that section of Augusta ever becomes more commercially developed.

Charles Eichacker can be contacted at 621-5642 or at:

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