Thousands of visitors and residents are drawn to Maine’s Moosehead Lake region every year to experience the spectacular clean waters, forests, and wildlife. The Plum Creek proposal in the early 2000s threatened to damage that unique character with sprawling development and was met with intense opposition. Eventually, the landowner, Weyerhaeuser, withdrew the plan in 2020.
Now, a new land use plan for the region charts a more positive path forward by balancing conservation with economic opportunities. The new zoning framework encourages development around town centers and avoids it in Lily Bay Township and around other smaller lakes.
The final Moosehead Region Planning Package approved by the Land Use Planning Commission (LUPC) at Wednesday’s meeting was developed after two years of consultation with local residents, towns, and businesses to determine how best to rezone nearly 17,000 acres that were originally part of the Plum Creek plan.
“The new zoning and adjacency rule changes will better protect what makes the Moosehead region special, including its rivers, lakes, and surrounding forestlands that support fish and wildlife, recreation, tourism, forest products, and carbon sequestration,” said Melanie Sturm, Forests & Wildlife Director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM). “We’re pleased with the level of community engagement the LUPC conducted for this important regional planning process.”
The plan dramatically scales down the areas available for development from 16,910 to 1,046 acres across six new development zones. An additional 73,207 acres by Indian Pond, Brassua Lake, and Long Pond will be removed from the “primary and secondary locations” for development. More than 359,000 acres are conserved as part of a Forest Society of Maine conservation easement, and much of the rest of the land is slated primarily for forestry or agriculture.
“I am pleased that parcels on the Lily Bay Peninsula and the south shore of Indian Pond are excluded from development zoning in the current package, since they had been inappropriately zoned for development in Plum Creek’s Concept Plan. These places are integral components of the Moosehead brand and are essential to sustaining the region’s nature tourism economy,” said Registered Maine Guide Wendy Weiger who lives in an off-the-grid cabin on First Roach Pond in Frenchtown Township. “However, I wish that LUPC had gone a step farther and created new protection zoning for these areas.”
The LUPC chose not to designate any new protection zones for critical fish and wildlife habitat, including for the federally threatened Canada lynx and rare species like the Rusty Blackbird. NRCM and others had asked for those protections to provide a buffer against development and commercial activity to safeguard the rich diversity of animals and plants that make up the Moosehead region.
“We’re disappointed that no changes were made to specifically protect the species that inhabit the region, especially because fish and wildlife face increasing stress from climate change, pollution, development, and invasive species,” continued Sturm. “However, it’s a win to have concentrated development zones near existing service centers, which should give these rural communities a boost.”
The Moosehead Lake region is a place of spectacular beauty that supports Maine’s vibrant tourism and outdoor recreation economies as well as the forest products industry. With hiking, boating, fishing, and ATVing in the summer and snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, and ice fishing in the winter—with the proximity of the expansive North Woods at its doorstep—Moosehead is exceedingly rich in outdoor opportunities.