Plum Creek’s trail to last week’s announcement of the second-largest conservation easement in U.S. history was more trial than trail.

It was good to see all the smiles at the May 15 press conference, but since the project was first proposed in 2004, there have been more grimaces than grins.

The regulatory process followed by the Land Use Regulation Commission in its consideration of Plum Creek’s Moosehead Conservation and Development Plan was an embarrassment for our state, and led to a major reorganization of LURC and the transfer of its regulatory authority to the Department of Environmental Protection and Maine Forest Service.

On behalf of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, I was one of 33 intervenors who participated in the lengthy regulatory review process, including questioning of witnesses.

SAM favored the project, recognizing that a plan conserving 96 percent of an area and allowing development in just 4 percent was a good deal for Maine. Plenty of people disagreed, however, and the process dragged out for years — even moving to court after LURC finally approved the plan. Earlier this year, the legal challenge was dismissed, allowing the conservation part of the plan to proceed.

The low point came in 2005 when the most radical opponents vandalized Luke Muzzy’s home in Greenville. Luke, a Mainer and mainstay in Greenville’s business community, left his real estate business to work full time for Plum Creek. The attack on the home he shares with his wife and kids was a black mark for our entire state.

Other attacks and threats led to the installation of security at Plum Creek’s Maine offices and the Department of Conservation. Very, very sad.

Most private landowners would have quit the state, but to Plum Creek’s great credit, it stayed the course and did not give up on Maine, although its officials must have been astonished at the poor treatment they received over the years.

Now I have to say that not all of Plum Creek’s harvesting practices have pleased everyone. No one can cut a tree in Maine without someone protesting, and we sportsmen cringe every time trees are felled in or near deeryards. Most forest landowners understand this.

What happened to Plum Creek was not normal, right or neighborly. Some opponents proceeded in good faith, participating in the process in a responsible manner. Others acted like bullies and resorted to appalling tactics and illegal actions. It was not our finest hour — or our finest eight years.

Shortly after Plum Creek purchased its first parcel in Maine, I traveled to Montana to learn more about the company. I found a company that liked doing projects with the country’s major conservation organizations, especially The Nature Conservancy and The Trust for Public Lands.

I also discovered that Plum Creek was spending a ton of money to restore the endangered bull trout in some of Montana’s famous rivers.

One thing has stuck in my mind ever since. The bull trout was endangered because brook trout had taken over its habitat. Yes, Maine brook trout. I volunteered to spend a summer out there, catching every possible brook trout. Alas, they didn’t accept my generous offer.

The sad tale of Plum Creek’s experience in Maine was not mentioned at the May 15 celebratory event, nor should it have been. That was the day to celebrate a stunning 363,000-acre easement on Plum Creek’s Moosehead region property, held by the Forest Society of Maine, that guarantees forever our opportunities to hunt, fish, hike and snowmobile on designated trails, and requires all forest harvesting to meet the Sustainable Forestry Initiative’s rigorous standards. The project established a number of precedents, including the designation of motorized and nonmotorized trails. And this parcel becomes part of an amazing 2 million acres of conservation land stretching from the St. John Valley to Moosehead Lake.

Some of the easement was donated by Plum Creek and the rest was purchased by The Nature Conservancy using funds raised for its $100 million Sustainable Maine campaign.

We don’t know if the development portion of the plan will come in time to rescue the economically depressed and distressed Greenville region. Every development project must acquire new state permits and will take years to complete.

In the meantime, Plum Creek already has started to implement the recreational initiatives — including new trails — called for in the approved plan. And the company — as well as all of the people who worked for eight years to get to the May 15 celebration, deserve more time to celebrate this achievement. None of us, however, should forget what it took to get there.

George Smith is a writer and TV talk show host. He can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or [email protected] Read more of Smith’s writings at www.georgesmithmaine.com.