Conserving Natural Resources, Building Community, Protecting Maine’s Heritage and Future
Today, the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM) released A Vision for the Moosehead Lake Region, an analysis of opportunities for conservation and community development in the region.
While development pressures could cause permanent and irreversible damage to the area – as many people fear would be the result of Plum Creek’s development proposal – NRCM’s alternative vision would carefully balance conservation and development in a fashion that could become a model for Maine and the nation.
Just over a year ago, Seattle-based Plum Creek Real Estate Corporation announced a major development proposal for Maine’s Moosehead Lake Region. The company’s huge development plan included 975 houses in 30 subdivisions, 2 resorts, a marina, 3 RV parks, 4 sporting camps, and 116 rental cabins scattered across 29 townships on 424,000 acres surrounding Moosehead Lake.
“We believe a better plan can be developed for the Moosehead Lake Region,” said Brownie Carson, executive director of NRCM. “Moosehead deserves a future that provides meaningful economic development while also protecting the natural resources that are the region’s greatest asset.”
The NRCM’s alternative vision for the region is centered on community and conservation. This alternative approach would ensure permanent conservation across most of the Moosehead Lake Region, while directing development to areas near existing towns and the existing ski area at Big Moose Mountain. Properly located development can build upon, rather than compete with, the strong sense of community that currently exists in Greenville and Rockwood.
The vision also features permanent, landscape-scale conservation, which can preserve the working forest and timber jobs that are so vital for the region, while also protecting wildlife habitat, scenic resources, and the potential for remote recreation – an increasingly important component of nature-based tourism for the region.
“This Moosehead Vision would protect the working forest, conserve wildlife and natural areas, enhance recreational opportunities, and ensure public access,” said Carson. “It would bring new vitality and much-needed resources to the communities of Greenville and Rockwood, while sustaining the wild and remote character that could make Moosehead Lake the premier gateway to Maine’s North Woods Experience – with an unrivaled range of features and activities to explore year-round.”
“We believe that the Alternative Vision presented in this report comes far closer to the needs and aspirations of Maine people than did Plum Creek’s original development plan,” said Carson. “We believe that this Alternative Vision would help guarantee protection of what is most special about the Moosehead Lake Region, while also supporting a substantial amount of well-planned community and economic development. This proposed alternative is offered as a concept – for interested parties to consider, evaluate, improve upon, and – we hope – adopt as a better way forward for the spectacularly beautiful Moosehead Lake Region.”
“The Moosehead Lake Region is special for many reasons to many people,” said Liz Munster, Rockwood Maine Real Estate Broker and Rockwood native. “Some come to enjoy the beauty and serenity, some come for the activities – hiking, biking, boating, climbing. Some come here to get away from the city, to rejuvenate and charge their batteries. The problem with the Plum Creek proposal is it is too much too soon and in the wrong places. There is room for some growth in Rockwood, but not great big resorts that would change the atmosphere and character and hurt the fishing, hunting and the life of those who live here year-round. I think there is room for some growth and development if it is done wisely and the areas are chosen carefully and the Natural Resources Council has done just that.”
“I support this alternative vision,” said Sally Farrand of Beaver Cove, “because it achieves three very important objectives. The alternative vision acknowledges the inevitability of change and development. The alternative vision locates the development where it is needed and wanted, such as, in the immediate Greenville area where there is more infrastructure to support such development. Perhaps, most importantly, the alternative vision removes the resort from Lily Bay which would significantly harm wildlife and the nature-based tourism assets of that region. In addition, the vision permits continued sustainable forestry activities. For all of these reasons I support this alternative vision.”
“The Moosehead Lake region is a one-of-a-kind natural treasure with its wide open spaces, crystal blue waters and unspoiled mountains,” said Ruth McLaughlin, Owner of the Blair Hill Inn in Greenville. “It is one of the few places left in our country that has not been taken over by housing developments and is, therefore, one of the most spectacular places left east of the Mississippi. There is so much economic value in what it is today. But that is currently not understood nor fully tapped into. Everyone else wants what we have. We cannot afford to risk losing what makes the Moosehead Region such a special place. Regrettably, the Maine coastline did not receive such care and forethought and, therefore, today only 20 miles of Maine’s ocean shorefront is not in private hands. I applaud the efforts of NRCM to put forth a vision – one that takes into deep consideration what makes this area so special and builds upon what we have, while maintaining the area’s unique natural assets. Plum Creek has publicly stated that they will take feedback into serious consideration. I understand that the law requires them to balance conservation with development of their land. I hope that Plum Creek will consider adopting NRCM’s proposal. The future of the Moosehead Lake region hangs in the balance.”
What emerged among the questions and comments was agreement on core principles that should guide the future of the region. These core principles are:
- Protect the North Woods character and provide permanent conservation for wildlife habitat and guaranteed public access for hunting, fishing, and nature-based tourism;
- Concentrate development near the existing communities of Greenville and Rockwood to avoid sprawl, minimize the cost of providing public services, and protect scenic and natural resources; and
- Ensure economic benefits for the local economy through development that provides new jobs in and near Greenville and Rockwood, adds value to existing businesses, allows for a new local tax base, and encourages year-round population growth that includes families, who will help bolster local schools and help achieve the “critical mass” needed for operating the hospital and municipal services.
The foundation for NRCM’s Alternative Vision has been built upon:
- Comments submitted to Maine’s Land Use Regulation Commission;
- LURC’s planning principles and approach;
- The work of the Moosehead Region Futures Committee and Friends of Moosehead;
- Maine’s Nature-based Tourism Initiative;
- Natural resource information developed by Maine Audubon and The Nature Conservancy; and
- Greenville’s comprehensive plan.
The Alternative Vision’s schematic was designed in response to site visits and site evaluations by Terrence J. DeWan & Associates, a Maine-based professional land use planning firm well-versed in community planning and the protection of scenic, ecological and recreational resources.
The guidelines followed for siting of development included:
- Be in or within two miles of established communities or major development (such as ski areas) to take advantage of existing infrastructure;
- Avoid sensitive wildlife habitats, major drainage patterns, significant wetlands, or other important ecological features;
- Provide opportunities for safe, attractive living environments that would not require major site alterations;
- Result in development patterns that would be compatible with the existing terrain and have minimal impact on the visual and physical environment.
The Alternative Vision achieves these goals by locating proposed development within two miles of Greenville, Rockwood or the existing ski area – and by proposing permanent conservation – either easements or public acquisition – over the remainder of the land Plum Creek originally proposed for development, approximately 424,000 acres.
The development proposed includes from north to south:
- Up to 75 new house lots next to Rockwood;
- Up to 65 new house lots immediately north of the existing ski area;
- A Maine Woods lodge and recreation hub immediately north west of the existing ski area;
- Up to 100 new house lots southwest of the ski area, within 2 miles of Greenville; and,
- 100 – 200 houses in the eastern part of the Town of Greenville.
In addition, it is clear that the existing ski resort at Big Moose Mountain is one of the most significant recreational resources and economic development opportunities in the Moosehead Lake Region. While it is not currently owned by Plum Creek, revitalization of this ski area into a world class four season resort could be a centerpiece of strategies to attract tourists to the Moosehead Lake Region.
The analysis is conceptual and offered for discussion purposes. It proposes a broad conservation strategy for the region that would protect the area’s natural resource base. It also envisions the possibility of 300-450 carefully-located house lots, and a Maine Woods lodge and recreation area that could serve as a hub for nature-based tourism. The following features are all at the heart of the Alternative Vision for the Moosehead Lake Region:
- Permanent conservation and public access would be guaranteed across 424,000 acres of the forests around Moosehead, preserving commercial timber harvesting, supporting nature-based tourism and protecting the wild character that makes the region a natural, cultural and spiritual treasure;
- Protection of unique and valuable wildlife habitat and scenic resources;
- Proposed developments that fit harmoniously into the landscape, protecting wildlife habitat, water quality, and scenic views;
- Proposed neighborhoods that follow “smart growth” principles, incorporating village housing patterns, walking paths, and protected natural areas. The goal would be to design well-planned, attractive communities providing the prospect for housing that is attractive to families with school-aged children and affordable to year-round residents;
- A Maine Woods Lodge located near the existing ski resort at Big Moose Mountain, eliminating Plum Creek’s proposed resort at Lily Bay or any other location where it would cut into undeveloped natural areas, detract from existing public lands, or drain resources away from Greenville-area businesses;
- World-class nature-based tourism facilities created to take advantage of a protected natural resource base with guaranteed public access. The area would be marketed as a key location for a “Maine Woods Experience,” featuring trips into Maine’s woods and waterways with Registered Maine Guides, traditional vacations at existing sporting camps, and a landscape filled with nature-based recreation opportunities; and
- New development designed to enhance existing towns and complement existing businesses, not compete with them or put them at risk.