Round the Mountain campaign reaches new heights

Maine Water Co., Coastal Mountains Land Trust seal a deal for outdoor recreation, conservation

Posted:  Tuesday, June 21, 2016 - 5:00pm
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ROCKPORT — For more than a decade, Maine Water Company and Coastal Mountains Land Trust have been talking about establishing protection for the 1,405 acres of corporate-owned land in West Rockport and Hope that protects the drinking water supply of many in the Midcoast. Today, June 21, the longtime effort paid off, with the announcement that the water company would be selling two major easements to Coastal Mountains and Maine Coast Heritage trusts over the next few years.

The agreement was announced at a gathering of officials, land trust board members and fundraisers, as well as press, at the Rockport headquarters of Maine Water. But it was the ever-stately Ragged Mountain that stole the show. The mountain, as well as Grassy Pond and Mirror Lake, stood placidly in the background absorbing the news of their permanent protection under a hot June sun.

The northeastern slopes of Ragged Mountain are home to the municipally Camden Snow Bowl; its western cliffs descend toward Rockport and Route 17, and its gentler northern slopes end in Hope, on the Gillette Road where old farms nestle onto its lower hills. Ragged Mountain has been well explored for centuries, with hikers, bikers, hunters and adventurers winding on the old trails to a summit that extends views over the Gulf of Maine. Now, its landscape will be under conservation for the public, and it will be encircled by a new trail, the nine-mile Round the Mountain Trail.

The effort to protect the land around the mountain took on new dimensions in 2005 when Coastal Mountains Land Trust began talking to the water company, a shareholder-owned public utility that feeds water to parts of Camden, Rockland, Rockport, Thomaston, Owls Head and Warren, and has done so for more than a century.

The project grew to include collaborating with Camden, in particular the Camden Snow Bowl, as Nordic ski trails were extended along land on nearby private property parcels that had one-by-one been secured by Coastal Mountains Land Trust.

On June 21, the land trust put even more form and function to the larger Bald and Ragged Mountain campaign with the announcement that it was purchasing easements on 1,400 acres of Maine Water land for the sake of clean water, recreation and open space.

The project price is estimated at $4.2 million, with the Mirror Lake conservation easement on 885 acres estimated at $1.9 million and the Grassy Pond easement on 550 acres estimated at $600,000.

Trailmaking costs are estimated to be another $700,000, trail stewardship at $300,000. A conservation fund for the Round the Mountain Trail land is also to be established, with $550,000.

So far, $1 million has been raised by the land trusts.

Tuesday’s announcement included the news that the easements that are to be purchased will protect land not just around Mirror Lake and Grassy Pond, but will extend to Spruce Mountain, in Rockport.

“The Maine Water Company is a key partner in this collaboration,” said Ian Stewart, director of Coastal Mountains Land Trust. “The have navigated multiple regulatory steps and committed significant financial contributions to the project.”

According to Judy Wallingford, president of Maine Water, the land will remain under Maine Water ownership, and the company will continue to pay taxes to the town of Rockport. In 2015, the land, classified under tax code as “watershed,” was assessed under multiple parcels. In total, Maine Water paid more than $166,385 in property taxes to the town.

Wallingford anticipated that with the easement, the company’s property taxes would be reduced by $15,000 to $20,000. Those tax savings, she said, would in turn be passed onto the water company customers.

 

Significance of the project

Maine Water has a long history in the Midcoast. It was originally organized in 1885 as the Camden and Rockland Water Company, and in 1895 it acquired the Rockland Water Company, which had been incorporated in 1850 to serve Rockland village.

In 1959, Consumers Water Company, of Portland, acquired the water company. More than a century later, the Philadelphia Suburban Corp. bought the company. That became Aqua America, the nation's largest investor-owned water utility, and was at one point a subsidiary of the French company Vivendi. In 2011, Aqua America divested of Aqua Maine, and now it is owned by the publicly-held Connecticut Water Services.

Wallingford has been with the company for decades, and guided the public water system, and its Rockport drinking supplies, through federal water quality changes, as well as safety expectations following 9/11, and new Homeland Security rules.

When the Environmental Protection Agency declared water companies needed to treat their water more stringently, the local concern arose: What would happen to the water company land that was purchased decades ago to protect that drinking water.

Maine Water could have subdivided and sold its land around Grassy Pond and Mirror Lake; instead, the corporate board of directors chose to work with the two land trusts to get the 1,400 acres conserved for public use, in perpetuity.

“The collaboration also involves the towns of Camden and Rockport,” announced the land trust. “Camden recognizes this effort as an opportunity to expand the four-season recreational opportunities of the Ragged Mountain Recreation Area. Rockport has identified Grassy Pond as a high priority area for conservation in its comprehensive plan.”

According to Stewart: “Thirteen years ago, our Land Trust embraced the vision to conserve the Bald and Ragged Mountains, a 3,470-acre area in Camden, Hope, and Rockport. Since then, Coastal Mountains Land Trust has protected more that 50 percent  of these scenic and ecologically important mountains. Our progress has been possible by the generous cooperation and support of landowners, community members, foundations and government agencies. This collaboration will catapult the Campaign for Bald & Ragged Mountains to 85 percent of its goal of conserving these two scenic mountains.”

 

How to protect the landscape, while promoting outdoor economy

“The Round the Mountain Trail will serve as an artery for an expanded system of trails for a range of activities including hiking, mountain biking, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing,” according to the land trust. “The trail will help convert the Camden Snow Bowl into a true four-season recreational destination.”

It is Camden’s intention to promote the outdoor economy, a development that has been promoted for several years. Briefly, there was discussion about how to encourage that without coming to grapple with pressures that affect Cadillac Mountain, the landscape on Mt. Desert, and as well as the town of Bar Harbor.

To Stewart, it is about “working hard that this is the right size [project] for our community.”

He is aware of the rare plants, most of which are at the summit of the mountains. He said Bald Mountain will remain open for hikers, only; not bicycles.

“Our vision is only to have a single-track path,” he said. The Round the Mountain Trail is to be 8-feet wide, and construction is to begin in Spring 2018.

He said the goal is to keep people on the trails.

For Camden’s Community Development Director Karen Brace, it is about communication. She is responsible for promoting the town’s outdoor economy.

She said June 21 that efforts are underway already to attract more people to the Ragged Mountain Recreation Area, and mentioned that stand-up paddle boards will be placed at Hosmer Pond.

Fake said much degradation of trails is the result of trail construction itself, and the method to avoid that is to build switchback-style trails, as opposed to cutting straight up the slopes.

“We need to bring all the people [bikers, hikers, etc.] to the table for planning,” said Stewart. “I think there’s enough space here for everybody.”

He said the land trust has hired three experts from around the state, including the man who built the Maine hut and trail system, to help with the trail design.

The Georges River Land Trust and its volunteers were the group to build the trail up the backside of Ragged Mountain [accessible from Route 17].

Stewart said the easement allows for permanent maintenance of a corridor for the Round the Mountain Trail as well as for the Georges Mountain Land Trust to maintain its trail.

 

Timing and Costs

The Land Trust will purchase a conservation easement on 855 acres around Mirror Lake on the east side of Route 17 for $2,005,000, by Dec. 31, 2017.

 Upon purchase of the Mirror Lake Easement, the Maine Water Company will donate $200,000 toward the cost of planning and building the Round the Mountain Trail.

The Land Trust will purchase a conservation easement on 550 acres around Grassy Pond on the west side of Route 17 for $645,000, half the appraised value, by Dec. 31, 2019.


Reach Editorial Director Lynda Clancy at lyndaclancy@penbaypilot.com; 207-706-6656