AUGUSTA — The Land for Maine’s Future board voted Tuesday to spend $1.25 million to conserve more than 37,000 acres near Moosehead Lake despite access concerns raised by some snowmobilers and professional guides.
The LMF money will be combined with more than $4 million in federal funds to purchase a conservation easement on the Katahdin Iron Works property owned by the Appalachian Mountain Club.
The property, which is located between the Piscataquis County towns of Greenville and Brownville, features miles of multiple-use recreational trails, remote ponds and several historic sporting camps.
The property is bisected by a section of the Appalachian Trail that leads to Gulf Hagas, a popular waterfall. Though the trail and Gulf Hagas are not on AMC land, they both are protected under earlier conservation agreements.
AMC’s plan to sell an easement to the state garnered strong support from Maine’s conservation community. More than a half-dozen people underscored that point Tuesday by urging the LMF board to approve the project.
But several snowmobile organizations as well as registered guides and sporting camp owners have criticized the easement.
AMC’s decision to set aside 10,000 of the 37,000 acres as an ecological reserve angered snowmobilers who used several now-closed trails in the reserve.
Snowmobiling is still permitted on trails in the remaining 27,000 acres and the easement contains language guaranteeing a snowmobile corridor through the property connecting Greenville and Brownville.
Backcountry recreation, fishing, trapping and all hunting except bear baiting are allowed throughout the property, which AMC bought from International Paper in 2003 for approximately $14 million.
Representatives of the Moosehead Riders Snowmobile Club and the Maine Snowmobile Association have written letters to LMF board members urging them not to spend taxpayer dollars on a project with restricted access to sledders.
On Tuesday, Rick Hill with the Maine Professional Guides Association asked the board to delay a vote. Hill, a registered guide from Shin Pond, said AMC’s rules on bear baiting as well as the snowmobile prohibition within the reserve are another blow to the economy of the North Woods.
“I think there are enough issues out there … that we need to sit down and reconsider some of these things,” Hill said.
But board member Jeffrey Thaler said he believed AMC had strong arguments for restricting uses within the reserve, including the presence of an unadulterated, wild population of brook trout and rare plants. If AMC had restricted public access throughout the property, Thaler added, he would not support it.
Fellow board member Marcia McKeague with Katahdin Timberlands described the project as a good mix of uses.
“It does highlight the need for continued work on how we share Maine,” said board chairman George LaPointe, who is commissioner of the Maine Department of Marine Resources.
Walter Graff, the AMC’s deputy director, said he hoped the project could become “a model of balance for multiple uses.” But Graff said his organization plans to continue working with the snowmobile club and other groups on their concerns