Last spring, the Natural Resources Council of Maine announced our strong opposition to Plum Creek’s plan to build 975 house lots, two resorts, a marina, three RV parks, four sporting camps, and 116 rental cabins across 29 townships surrounding Moosehead Lake.
We strongly believed then, and believe even more strongly today, that it was too much development, the wrong kinds of development, and in the wrong locations. We concluded that development of the type and size proposed by Plum Creek would cause permanent and irreversible damage to the entire Moosehead Lake Region – one of the most treasured places in Maine.
At a press conference on June 23rd, I said:
“We encourage Plum Creek to go back to the drawing board. Bring Maine a plan that provides permanent protection for trails, lake shores, remote ponds, and rivers that are the foundation of the area’s nature-based recreation economy, now, and for the future. Bring Maine a plan that encourages commercial development of locally-owned businesses in Greenville, not full-service resorts 20 miles away. Bring Maine a plan that provides permanent, not temporary, protection of the forest.”
Last August, more than 1,000 people attended four “scoping sessions” held by Maine’s Land Use Regulation Commission. The overwhelming majority of speakers expressed deep concerns about Plum Creek’s proposal. More than 5,000 people signed a petition to LURC in opposition to Plum Creek’s plan – the largest number ever received by LURC.
By the end of last year, Plum Creek announced that it had heard the voices of Maine people and was returning to the drawing board to take a fresh look, with the goal of submitting a new plan.
NRCM has strongly felt that a better plan can and must be developed for the region – one that provides meaningful economic development while protecting the natural resources that are the region’s greatest asset. To help encourage a better path forward, NRCM has been at the drawing board as well.
We hired one of the state’s leading land use planning firms, Terrence DeWan & Associates, to help us understand the development and conservation opportunities in the Moosehead Lake Region. With their assistance, we have created the report that we are releasing today, titled: A Vision for the Moosehead Lake Region.
This document is the product of three fundamental building blocks:
First, local input. We have carefully reviewed the hundreds of comments and statements submitted as part of LURC’s scoping sessions. We have studied the excellent work of the Moosehead Region Futures Committee and Friends of Moosehead. We have examined the natural resource assessments by The Nature Conservancy, Appalachian Mountain Club, and Maine Audubon.
In addition, NRCM staff visited the Moosehead Region more than 30 times over the past year to meet with, listen to, and learn from area residents.
Second, LURC’s Planning Guidance. We have carefully examined the approval criteria that LURC has established for evaluating development proposals in Maine’s unorganized territories.
And Third, the Town of Greenville Comprehensive Plan. Because Greenville is the gateway community for the Moosehead Lake Region, and because it is the town that has the most to benefit – or lose – from development in the region, we took a close look at Greenville’s goals and aspirations as captured in their 1997 comprehensive plan.
We believe that there is an emerging consensus around a set of guiding principles for development and conservation in the Moosehead Lake Region. These principles include: permanent, landscape-scale land conservation; carefully sited development in and near existing communities; development that strengthens the economy for local people; and protection of the region’s character and heritage.
Guided by these core principles, we commissioned Terry DeWan & Associates to evaluate a range of development scenarios for the region. A set of “candidate locations for development” were identified, and the planning team conducted multiple site visits.
The resulting document, which we present today for public discussion, provides an alternative vision for the Moosehead Lake region.
This vision proposes a broad conservation strategy that would protect the area’s natural resource base and traditional character. It also envisions the possibility of 300-450 carefully-located house lots, in five locations in and near Greenville and Rockwood, and a Maine Woods Lodge and recreation area that could serve as a hub for nature-based tourism.
The Alternative Vision for the Moosehead Lake Region contains the following six major elements:
1) 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. This land would be protected through conservation easement and acquisition.
2) Up to 75 new house lots next to Rockwood. A proposed neighborhood within walking distance of the school and backlot homes overlooking Moosehead Lake. Well-planned, attractive housing could attract families with school-aged children and be affordable to year-round residents
3) Up to 65 new house lots immediately north of the existing ski area, in two locations. One group of homes would overlook Burnham Pond, another group to the East of Rt 6/15 would be near the lake.
4) A Maine Woods Lodge and recreation hub immediately north west of the existing ski area. This could be a four-season facility in a rustic mountain setting near remote ponds.
5) Up to 100 new house lots southwest of the ski area, at Harfords Highlands. Homes in this location would be within a short distance of Greenville, the ski area, and other nearby attractions.
6) 100 – 200 houses in several distinct areas near Big Wilson Stream, in the eastern part of the Town of Greenville. House lots in this area would have excellent nearby recreation opportunities, with the possibility of being connected to a broad network of trails.
In addition to these areas on Plum Creek land, it is clear that the existing ski resort at Big Moose Mountain presents one of the most significant recreational resources and economic development opportunities in the Moosehead Lake Region. Revitalization of this ski area into a world-class four-season resort could be a centerpiece of a strategic plan to attract tourists to the Moosehead Lake Region.
Our Vision for the Moosehead Region would protect the working forest, conserve wildlife and scenic resources, enhance recreational opportunities, and ensure public access. 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.
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, discuss, and – we hope – adopt as a better way forward for the spectacularly beautiful Moosehead Lake Region.