By Chris Churchill, staff writer
Baxter State Park would grow larger — and include a pristine lake conservationists have long wanted to protect — under a land-purchase proposal to be unveiled today.
At a news conference this morning, Gov. John Baldacci and legislative leaders are expected to announce that The Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit conservation agency, is poised to buy 6,015 acres that include old-growth forest and Katahdin Lake.
“It’s one of the most beautiful lakes in the state of Maine, and it offers a unique vantage of Mount Katahdin,” Sam Hodder, a project manager with the Trust, said Tuesday.
“Katahdin is a landmark that everybody knows and loves, but the view from this angle is one that few people know.”>/p>
The apparent land purchase results from three years of negotiations with Gardner Land Co., owner of the acreage.
The property includes hiking trails and fishing spots in a region considered among the most beautiful in Maine.
Under the deal, the Trust would purchase land, including parcels already owned by the state, then trade it for acreage bordering Baxter State Park.
The deal also is dependent on a fundraising collaboration between the Trust and the Maine Department of Conservation.
“The project is unusual in how the department is playing a large role in the fundraising campaign,” Hodder said. “It’s been a remarkable display of commitment on the part of the state to get this project done.”>/p>
The Trust expects it will need $14 million to complete the deal, and intends to turn the land over to the Baxter State Park Authority, which governs the park.
The proposal’s advocates stress that it advances conservation efforts without harming the timber industry.
Hodder said Gardner, a timber harvester, made it clear his company was willing to relinquish the land only if it received nearby land of equal value.
“They wanted to make sure they kept crews in the woods and wood on their trucks,” Hodder said.
Baxter State Park was created by former Maine Gov. Percival Baxter, who donated the 200,000 acres that comprises the park — considered among the state’s top recreational assets and a major tourist magnet.
Department of Conservation Commissioner Patrick McGowan said acquisition of Katahdin Lake has been a top priority since the early 1900s, when Baxter outlined his dream for the park.
“We have an opportunity to complete Gov. Baxter’s vision,” McGowan said. “For those of us who have been involved in conservation for 25 years, this is a big deal.”>/p>
The proposal is contingent on approval from the Maine Legislature, which will be asked to OK the land swap.
Josh Tardy, R-Newport, is sponsoring a land-trade bill lawmakers are expected to soon consider.
Tardy said the proposed deal is “important to two sectors of the Maine economy — the forest products industry and tourism — which together mean more than $16 billion annually.”>/p>
The Katahdin Lake acquisition has drawn initial commitments of $3.3 million so far from private donors, according to the Trust.
An option to purchase the Katahdin Lake tract ends July 1.
Chris Churchill — 623-3811, Ext. 431 firstname.lastname@example.org