The Legislature’s Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee has been studying Maine land trusts since October. As leaders of the Maine Land Trust Network, we welcome the study and the chance to highlight the many ways we make Maine “the way life should be.”

Last summer, the Maine Land Trust Network surveyed our members and published the findings in a report titled “Land Trusts Work for Maine.” This report highlights the most important benefits that land trusts contribute to our local communities and to the state. For example, hikers can explore more than 1,250 miles of trails that wind through land trust properties in every corner of Maine. These range from family-friendly nature paths in communities like Freeport, to more challenging routes ending atop bald summits in rural corners of Oxford County, and everything in between. Motorized recreational enthusiasts also benefit from Maine’s statewide collection of land trust conserved lands, which are home to more than 345 miles of ATV trails and 570 miles of snowmobile trails.

Land trust lands also support the state’s thriving tourism industry, which is one of Maine’s most important economic drivers — its statewide economic impact is estimated at $9 billion, with 36 million visitors paying $596 million in taxes to the state last year alone. On the local level, in 2013, University of Maine researchers studied Boothbay Region Land Trust’s 30 miles of trails and discovered that they welcome an estimated 67,000 visitors each year. Moreover, the trust’s trail guide is the most popular brochure requested at the Boothbay Harbor Region Chamber of Commerce.

Land trusts also sustain Maine’s natural resource economy by conserving working lands. More than 85 percent of the acres that land trusts have conserved (2.14 million acres) are working forestlands; 36,000 acres are working farmlands; and seven working waterfront properties have been conserved, along with more than 60 access sites for clammers, wormers and other marine fishermen.

Maine’s land trusts encourage visitors to enjoy access to the water, too, as families can find more than 200 beaches offering opportunities to swim, picnic, fish and observe wildlife. At the same time, those wishing to launch a canoe or kayak can choose from more than 60 saltwater and 140 freshwater boat launch sites provided and maintained by land trusts. Maine sportsmen also enjoy hunting access to more than 90 percent of all lands conserved by land trusts, representing more than 2.3 million acres in the state.

The work of the state’s land trusts is also promoting significant economic growth in local food systems. For example, a farmers market at Crystal Spring Farm in Brunswick operated by the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust attracts more than 3,000 customers each week purchasing from 44 local vendors, all supporting the growth of the local economy. The farm has become a community gathering place that’s fun for kids and adults alike, as well as a low-cost, high-volume retail outlet for local farmers, bakers and artisans. Maine’s land trusts also provide educational programming, host community events, and enhance our local economies and communities. Land trusts partner with local schools across the state to engage students in outdoor learning opportunities that help ensure the next generation of Mainers remain connected to the outdoors and value the incredible natural resources of our state. For example, the Kennebec Land Trust hosts the Curtis Homestead Forestry Education program each year, where 150 students from Buckfield, Monmouth and Leeds learn about sustainable forestry, wildlife and local history.

As an added bonus, the 2017 data also indicate that nearly 95 percent of all lands conserved by land trusts in Maine remain on the tax rolls. Most of these lands are also subject to the state’s forestry excise tax, which funds forest fire protection throughout Maine. And for those worried that Maine is being overwhelmed with public land, our report shows that, at 6.5 percent of its area, Maine has the lowest percentage of public lands of any East Coast state. This includes those often cited for favorable tax policies, including neighboring New Hampshire, where more than 17 percent of land in the state is publicly owned.

Maine, instead, has forged a public-private partnership between land trusts and our local communities that is in keeping with Maine’s tradition of local control. These partnerships allow us to support budget-strapped local municipalities by taking on the financial burdens of managing conserved lands now and into the future, ensuring that the natural resource protection, public access and outdoor recreation needs of our local citizens are met.

Nick Ullo is executive director of the Boothbay Region Land Trust and chairman of the Maine Land Trust Network. Angela Twitchell is executive director of the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust and vice chairwoman of the Maine Land Trust Network. For more information about land trusts or to find your local land trust, visit mltn.org.