A conservation group has finalized a land deal to protect more than 5,700 acres of forestland and stream frontage in Franklin County that also features miles of snowmobile trails.

The Trust for Public Land announced Monday that the organization used a $1.28 million grant from the federal Forest Legacy program plus other funding to purchase a conservation easement on 5,774 acres in Madrid Township.

The land, which is owned by Linkletter Timberlands, will continue to be managed for timber but helps create a 77,000-acre block of conservation land in what is known as the High Peaks region. The conservation easement ensures the public will continue to have access to the land for recreation.

Located east of Saddleback Mountain, the tract includes acreage along Orbeton Stream – designated as habitat for endangered Atlantic salmon – and 6 miles of the Maine Interconnected Trail System 84 and 89 snowmobile trails. The land is close to the Appalachian Trail.

“Protection of Orbeton Stream will ensure that a vital snowmobile and ATV corridor that connects the region’s communities and businesses will continue to be open to the public forever. These trails are critical to the economic development of these towns,” Don Whittemore, a member of the North Franklin Snowmobile Club and Narrow Gauge Riders ATV Club, said in a statement.

The Trust for Public Land, which is a national organization with an office in Portland, said the property was the largest remaining working forest parcel in Madrid Township and was facing potential subdivision. Linkletter Timberlands supplies wood to several Franklin County mills as well as to the Linkletter family’s Maine Woods Pellet Co. facility in Athens.

“Keeping forests as forests benefits all of us by safeguarding recreation and access important to Mainers, and as a source of timber to fuel the state’s economy,” Wolfe Tone, Maine state director for The Trust for Public Land, said in a statement.

Maine has protected more acreage than any other state through the federal Forest Legacy program, which typically uses conservation easements to prohibit development while requiring sustainable forestry on the land. The grant used to purchase the conservation easements along Orbeton Stream was awarded by the U.S. Forest Service in fiscal year 2012. With more than 17 million acres of forestland, Maine is the most heavily forested state in the nation. More than 90 percent of that land is privately owned.

Members of Maine’s congressional delegation – Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, former Sen. Olympia Snowe, Rep. Chellie Pingree and outgoing Rep. Mike Michaud – all supported the Orbeton Stream project. The Land for Maine’s Future program allocated $150,000 to the project and other funding came from the Open Space Institute, Wildlife Conservation Society, Fields Pond Foundation, Hopwood Charitable Trust, John Sage Foundation and private donors.


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