We Mainers do drive a hard bargain. For just $7 each, every Maine taxpayer has helped buy 50,000 acres of Maine’s best places.

The $9 million we put up for these 25 Land for Maine’s Future projects in 37 communities was matched by $24.8 million from 60 partners. Good deals!

It’s an amazing list of our very best places — great places to hunt, spectacular places to fish, critical deer wintering areas and trout spawning grounds, farms, lake and pond frontage and access, snowmobile and hiking trails, working waterfronts, vernal pools and other important wildlife habitat, and lots more.

These are the first awards from the Land for Maine’s Future board in three years. “We believe that these grants will bolster tourism-related business, increase access for sportsmen and enhance the state’s traditional natural resource-based economy,” said Tom Abello of The Nature Conservancy. He is so right.

The most spectacular purchase was the Cold Stream Forest Project in Somerset County. Purchased from Plum Creek, the project protects 8,153 acres, including more than 3,000 acres of deer wintering area habitat north of The Forks and 30 miles of streams on a major tributary to the Kennebec River. The purchase conserves more wild brook trout pond habitat than in the rest of Northern New England.

The LMF funds will match a substantially larger grant of $6 million from the U. S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service Forest Legacy Program. Having served on the Forest Legacy Program’s advisory board when the federal government launched the program, I can tell you that our state has benefited more than any other from the program and funding.

Three projects in our area deserve special mention.

• Central Maine Sportsman’s Access Project: I love this name! Access for sportsmen and women are protected in this Somerset and Waldo counties project that also conserves critical wildlife habitat. The 2,883 acres, in Burnham, Cambridge, Detroit, Emden and Ripley, protect 880 acres of deer wintering habitat, 4,000 feet of pond shoreline, wetland complexes and rare plants and animals. The project increases access in the area of the state with the lowest concentration of land protected for public access coupled with the highest documented outdoor use.

• Kimball Pond: I’m particularly excited about this purchase. The Kennebec Highlands consists of 6,000 acres of public land in Belgrade, Rome, Vienna and Mount Vernon, just 20 minutes from the Capitol and 10 minutes from my house. I spend a lot of time there hunting, fishing, berry picking, birding and hiking.

Until now, the only access to the west side of the Highlands was across private land. This project purchased access on the west side, including Kimball Pond, a popular trout fishery, and was a partnership with Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands, Belgrade Regional Conservation Alliance and The Nature Conservancy.

The Belgrade Regional Conservation Alliance led the long and successful effort to purchase, conserve and improve the Kennebec Highlands, one reason I am proud to be a member of this organization.

• Howard Hill: You’ve read about this exciting project, led by the Kennebec Land Trust, to protect the undeveloped portion of Howard Hill that towers over the Capitol. The city of Augusta will use the LMF grant to assist in the acquisition of 165 acres for recreation, open space and wildlife habitat.

Howard Hill is where history meets habitat. The historic Ganneston Park property is significant in Maine’s history and once contained a series of carriage paths. Within sight of the Capitol, you can see deer, foxes, eagles and lots more. Wonderful trails and spectacular views may — if we are lucky — even draw legislators out of the Capitol once in a while to spend some quality time outdoors!

Conclusion

Land for Maine’s Future Chairman Bill Vail, former commissioner of the state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife; Ed Meadows, LMF executive director, and every member of the LMF board deserve special thanks today.

The many partners in these projects also deserve our thanks, including The Nature Conservancy, Trust for Public Land, Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, Maine Coast Heritage Trust, Forest Society of Maine, along with state agencies including the DIF&W and Bureau of Parks and Lands, lots of local and regional land trusts, and some towns.

You can see the entire list of projects on the Land for Maine’s Future website, www.maine.gov/dacf/lmf.

Give yourself a pat on the back, too. Our support over the years for the Land for Maine’s Future program has conserved many of the state’s very best places. Sing along with me this morning. “This land is your land, this land is my land. …”

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.

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