Round the Mountain Collaboration Reaches Two Major Milestones
On September 27, 2018, Coastal Mountains Land Trust completed the purchase of an historic conservation easement protecting 786-acres of land, owned by the Maine Water Company, on the south side of Ragged Mountain surrounding Mirror Lake in Rockport and Hope. Simultaneously, the Land Trust also selected a contractor, after a comprehensive bid process, to begin construction of the Round the Mountain Trail. This trail will expand recreational access to the protected property as permitted under the terms of this agreement.
The Mirror Lake Conservation Easement, the largest conservation easement ever completed in midcoast Maine, is the keystone project of the Round the Mountain Collaboration, the Land Trust’s partnership with the Maine Water Company, Maine Coast Heritage Trust, local municipalities, and numerous local outdoor recreation groups. Combined with an existing conservation easement, this project completes conservation of nearly all 1,000-acres of the Mirror Lake Watershed as undeveloped open space. This watershed serves as the water supply for Rockland, Thomaston, Rockport, Camden, and parts of Owls Head and Warren. The easement protects the entire south side of Ragged Mountain, the 4th highest peak on the eastern seaboard, and ensures that a large area of critical wildlife habitat will be protected forever. The easement also guarantees that the land, which will continue to be owned by the Maine Water Company, will be available for broad public access for hiking, mountain biking, running, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and hunting via the new Round the Mountain Trail and the existing Georges Highland Path.
Since its launch in June of 2016, the Round the Mountain Collaboration has raised more than $3.5 million in private funds towards the conservation of 1,500 acres of land around Ragged Mountain in Camden, Rockport and Hope and the development of the nine-mile Round the Mountain Trail. After completing the Mirror Lake Conservation Easement, the Collaboration needs to raise an additional $1 million to acquire a 498-acre easement around Grassy Pond in 2019, and to finish development of the Round the Mountain trail in 2019 and 2020.
Since initial discussions began more than 15 years ago, the Maine Water Company has served as a key partner in this collaboration, helping to navigate multiple regulatory hurdles and planning for the long-term protection and stewardship of this land. Faced with the very real option of selling off land that was no longer strictly required to meet water quality standards because of changing regulations and a new filtration system, the Maine Water Company instead committed to working with the Land Trust to ensure the conservation of their land. The recently completed conservation easement legally secures that commitment permanently.
Under the terms of the transaction, the Maine Water Company has agreed to directly investing in the local community in a variety of ways. Last week, Maine Water gifted $250,000 to Coastal Mountains Land Trust in support of the construction of the Round the Mountain Trail and future stewardship of the land. Futhermore, half of the net proceeds from the sale of the easement will be returned as a rebate to their customers in the form of a credit on their monthly bills. Starting in 2019, customers of Maine Water Company in the Camden Rockland division will share in the benefits of the collaboration through rebate credits totaling over $400,000 applied to all water bills. The other half of the net proceeds will be reinvested in infrastructure improvements and upgrades within the Mirror Lake water system.
The Land Trust is also actively preparing to begin construction of the future nine-mile Round the Mountain Trail. With support from Maine Water and grants from the Recreational Trails Program, Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund and Quimby Foundation, the Land Trust will complete the layout of the final trail corridor as early as November. The Land Trust has selected OBP (“Off-the-Beaten-Path”) Trailworks, LLC, a Maine-based contractor, to build the first 5.5 miles of the Round the Mountain Trail between the Camden Snowbowl and a new trailhead on the southern side of Ragged Mountain along Hope Street throughout the summer and fall of 2019. The trail, which was designed for non-motorized recreational use, will be between six and eight feet in width and will accommodate users of all levels. Gartley & Dorsky Engineering and Surveying generously donated their time and expertise to the Land Trust to develop the comprehensive set of trail design, construction, and erosion control plans for this large project. When completed, the Round the Mountain Trail will connect with a growing network of more than 20 miles of trail, including the Georges Highland Path on Ragged Mountain.
Fifteen years ago, Coastal Mountains Land Trust adopted vision of conserving a 3,500-acre area around Bald and Ragged Mountain in Camden, Hope, and Rockport. With this project, the Land Trust has successfully fulfilled more that 80% of that goal. The recent progress, made through the Round the Mountain Collaboration, has been made possible by the generous cooperation of landowners and ongoing support of community members, foundations and government agencies. Maine Coast Heritage Trust has served as a lead partner in the overall project, assisting with campaign planning and donor outreach. Local recreational groups including the Midcoast Chapter of the New England Mountain Bike Association (McNEMBA) and the Trail Runners of Midcoast Maine (TRoMM) have partnered as volunteers, donors, and promoters of the project. Camden Hills Regional High School endorsed the effort given that it will benefit regional high school cross-country running, Nordic skiing, and mountain bike teams as it expands the network of trails available for each of these users. Pen Bay Medical Center endorsed the project because it promotes community wellness, while the Penobscot Bay Regional Chamber of Commerce supports the trail’s ability to strengthen our community and promote a healthy year-round local economy. The collaboration has also involved close cooperation with the Towns of Camden and Rockport. The Town of Camden has acknowledged the synergy between the the recreational goals of this project and its goal of redeveloping the Camden Snow Bowl as a four-season recreation area. The Town of Rockport’s comprehensive plan specifically highlights the land surrounding Mirror Lake and Grassy Pond as priorities area for conservation.