By Tim Glidden and Kate Dempsey
Bangor Daily News op-ed
In recent years, there has been increased scrutiny of Maine’s land trusts. As representatives of two statewide land conservation organizations, we welcome the attention. But for too long public debate on the land trust community has been plagued by speculation and misinformation. The public deserves better.
To remedy the situation, Maine land trusts worked with the governor’s office and legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle to pass a pair of initiatives in July to better inform the public about our work. One of those initiatives, playing out in Augusta this fall, is a legislative study of conserved lands owned by nonprofits. The data and information collected thus far has been revealing.
Maine lags well behind other states when it comes to public land available for outdoor recreation. In fact, Maine has a lower percentage of publicly owned land — 6.5 percent of the state — than every other state east of the Appalachian Mountains. By comparison, more than 17 percent of New Hampshire is publicly owned. And, in Florida, one in every four acres is conservation land owned by the public.
Another misperception is that Maine land trusts negatively impact taxpayers. In fact, nearly 95 percent of all land conserved by land trusts in Maine remains on the tax rolls, contributing to the local property tax base, according to an October Maine Land Trust Network report. Most land trust lands are also subject to the state’s forestry excise tax, funding forest fire protection throughout Maine.
Above all, what the legislative study has captured is the diverse network of outdoor recreational areas available to the public, thanks to Maine’s network of 80 land trusts. Together, these properties feature scenic landscapes, recreational trails, community parks and outdoor experiences rivaling those offered at state and federal parks, and, with few exceptions, also invite the public for free.
Looking for photogenic coastal landscapes? Head east to the Bold Coast to discover dramatic rocky headlands and moss-lined trails in Maine Coast Heritage Trust’s Bog Brook, Boot Head and Hamilton Cove Preserves. Do you prefer breathtaking mountain views? In western Maine, Mahoosuc Land Trust’s Rumford Whitecap Preserve and Loon Echo Land Trust’s Pleasant Mountain Preserve feature panoramic White Mountain vistas and acres of blueberries for picking.
Hikers will find more than 1,260 miles of trails on land trust properties in Maine. These range from family-friendly nature paths in communities like Bangor, to more rugged routes ending atop wind-swept summits in rural corners of Piscataquis County, and everything in between.
Would you rather enjoy the outdoors on the back of a snowmobile, mountain bike or ATV? Maine’s land trust conserved lands are also home to more than 275 miles of mountain bike trails, 345 miles of ATV trails and 570 miles of snowmobile trails. In fact, each year more than 5,000 snowmobilers head north to The Nature Conservancy’s Debsconeag Lakes Wilderness Area, where three trails wind through a remote corner of the state and showcase stunning views of Katahdin.
Are you drawn to our state’s coastal and inland waters? Maine’s land trust properties contain more than 200 beaches offering opportunities to swim, picnic and observe wildlife. Those wishing to launch their canoe or kayak will find more than 60 saltwater and 140 freshwater boat launch sites, provided and maintained by land trusts. Head to Downeast Lakes Land Trust’s 55,578-acre community forest near Grand Lake Stream for world-class fishing opportunities, or venture to the sandy shores of Rangeley Lakes Heritage Trust’s Cupsuptic Lake Campground to cool off on a hot summer day.
Searching for that elusive buck or hidden partridge? Believe it or not, more than 90 percent of all land conserved by Maine land trusts is open to hunting. In other words, more than 2.3 million acres — 10 percent of the state.
Maine’s land trusts not only offer world-class outdoor recreational opportunities, but also convenient access to the outdoors in communities where we live and raise our families: outdoor classrooms behind our local schools, community gardens we pass while driving to work each day, forests where our kids run cross-country races, and gentle trails where we walk our dogs in the evening.
Tim Glidden is president of Maine Coast Heritage Trust. Kate Dempsey is state director of The Nature Conservancy of Maine.