A group of local residents trying to buy Haystack Mountain in Montville enjoy the expansive view from the top of the Midcoast mountain. Most conservation deals in Maine are brokered by non-profits or the state – not a grassroots band of locals. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

MONTVILLE — When Ben Roberts-Pierel was just 12 hours old, his father, Cam Pierel, carried the newborn up 840-foot Haystack Mountain because the mountain was directly behind the family’s home, and going up the mountain was simply what they always did.

“I was born in November. So it was a little cold. Dad then took me down along the street to meet the neighbors and they said, ‘You need to take him home,’” said Roberts-Pierel, now 34. “I still always come up the mountain when I come home.”

Roberts-Pierel is among those lending his voice to a grassroots effort to preserve Haystack Mountain in Montville and Liberty in Maine’s Midcoast. Allen’s Blueberry Freezer Inc. in Ellsworth is selling 60 acres on the mountain’s summit that includes a dirt access road up to the blueberry fields there.

The newly formed Friends of Haystack Mountain signed a purchase and sales agreement for the land with Allen’s on June 14. The group has until the end of the year to raise the $450,000 needed to buy the land, and hopes to do so through a combination of grants and private donations, said Buck O’Herin, who is involved with the grassroots effort.

What’s at stake is a mile-long-loop trail that traverses a peak that has expansive views to Mount Washington to the west, Blue Hill Mountain to the east and the Camden Hills to the southeast. After the leaves drop in fall, there are views to Lake St. George to the west. The iconic view is to many in the Midcoast what Mount Agamenticus or Bradbury Mountain are to outdoor enthusiasts in southern Maine.

Here local families have shared in picnics, Easter Egg hunts, family reunions, and sledding parties for generations, because Allen’s permitted the public access. 


Ben Roberts-Pierel, Cathy Roberts and Martha Piscuskas, left to right, take in the view atop Haystack Mountain, which they are trying to protect. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Friends of Haystack Mountain are being guided and advised by the Midcoast Conservancy, which will serve as a fiscal partner so the friends group can apply for grants. The Conservancy did not want to purchase the mountain because it is outside its target conservation area, said Pete Nichols, the Conservancy’s executive director.

The conservancy is working on linking together protected lands to preserve biodiversity and mitigate the impacts of climate change by creating wildlife corridors.

Having an ad-hoc, grassroots group work to protect a single piece of land is not how conservation deals are typically done, said Warren Whitney, the Maine Coast Heritage Trust’s land trust program director.

Whitney said the vast majority of the time, a land trust or conservation nonprofit purchases land for conservation. As of 2019, Maine’s roughly 85 land trusts had protected just under 2.7 million acres in Maine, according to Maine Coast Heritage Trust.

“It’s interesting it’s happened in a few places. But I haven’t heard of a lot of people doing it,” Whitney said of such a grassroots effort focused on one piece of land.

When O’Herin, Cathy Roberts and several others found themselves with an offer to buy the 60-acre mountain top from Allen’s, they quickly formed into a passionate group, divided up tasks to get the job done, and focused their attention on preserving the mountain. The friends group plans to become a limited liability company, O’Herin said.


If the Friends group is successful in raising the $450,000 for the land sale, they will then turn it over to the Midcoast Conservancy knowing they can continue to enjoy it.

“We’ve spent a lot of time in every season here. This is where my children’s outdoor interests started,” Roberts said.

Local residents trying to purchase Haystack Mountain from Allen’s Blueberry Freezer Inc plan to turn the property over to the Midcoast Conservancy if they are successful in protecting it. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

The mile-long loop trail is used often by the local students at the Walker School, which sits at the base of the mountain in Liberty. The trailhead is accessed via the Walker Health Center, which is next to the local elementary school.

Martha Piscuskas, another local in the friends group who lives near the mountain in Liberty, also hikes to the top regularly – and 30 years ago she used to hike up it daily while knitting, during an especially robust knitting period in her life.

“It’s like going to the post office or the market. You go up the mountain,” Piscuskas said. “We want to conserve it, hand it over to the Midcoast Conservancy, and then step back.”

A natural rock patio covers the summit with signs of the last Ice Age everywhere, such as the dimpled rock path and glacial erratics that line the trail to the summit.


The bedrock on the summit includes metamorphic rocks formed by plate tectonics, according to the Maine Geological Survey. “The heating, compression, and folding of the rocks are on display right under your feet,” the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry says about the mountain’s peak.

“Nobody wants this to get developed. It’s been a resource for a long time,” O’Herin said. “When the group started meeting, everyone started scrambling.” 

With just over six months to raise the money, the group plans to secure a loan and then pursue funding through grants, such as from the Land for Maine’s Future, O’Herin said. 

He plans to lend his expertise as the conservancy’s board president. O’Herin was instrumental in creating the 46-mile Hills to Sea Trail between Belfast and Unity.

“I’m involved because we’ll see more of this in the next five to 10 years,” O’Herin said. “And it’s exciting when you see folks in a community step up and try to protect land. It will happen again. This kind of effort is going to be vital.” 

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