The newly-formed Downeast Lakes Land Trust approached the New England Forestry Foundation, a regional, established conservation organization with a compatible mission and a recent track record of completing large conservation projects in Maine. NEFF brought conservation expertise, fundraising knowledge, and a substantial financial network throughout New England. DLLT brought local energy, local knowledge, and support from the local community.
Through the Downeast Lakes Forestry Partnership, DLLT negotiated with Wagner Timber Management for purchase of 27,080 acres in T5 ND and T6 ND BPP, immediately to the west of Grand Lake Stream. Even more than the size of this purchase, these lands were notable for their 62 miles of lakeshore on West Grand, Pocumcus, Sysladobsis, and Third and Fourth Machias Lakes.
DLLT negotiated to purchase the timber rights during the term of the option, to ensure the forest would not be heavily harvested before purchase. The partners agreed that NEFF would hold a conservation easement over the majority of the community forest land, with Sweet Water Trust acquiring a Forever Wild conservation easement over a new 3,560-acre ecological reserve at Fourth Machias Lake.
The Partnership would raise additional funds to cover the purchase of the 312,000-acre Sunrise Easement (managed by Wagner) and the 50-mile Saint Croix Corridor, and to provide endowments to support land and easement stewardship in perpetuity.
The $34.8 million campaign began in 2003, and the land and easement purchases were completed in 2005. Bridge financing was used to complete the purchases, and the fundraising campaign formally concluded with an announcement in May of 2008.
While the Downeast Lakes Land Trust was in the midst of the Downeast Lakes Forestry Partnership capital campaign, an adjacent tract of forestland owned by International Paper went on the market.
International Paper, like other large forest products corporations, divested itself of its Maine land holdings between 2001 and 2005. When IP subsidiary SP Timber L.L.C. put the 6,628-acre “Wabassus Lake Tract” on the market before adjacent lands, it raised strong local concern that this might be sold as a private recreational property on which public access would be denied, or be subjected to liquidation harvesting and development.
Instead, a private investor group purchased the property in 2004 and offered to sell it to the Downeast Lakes Land Trust for a bargain sale price that is approximately 82% of its appraised value. DLLT raised over $3.2 million dollars to acquire the Wabassus Lake Tract and add it to the existing community forest.
The Wabassus Lake Tract is immediately south of DLLT’s original community forest purchase. It is between the state-owned 1,000-foot-wide Machias River corridor shoreline conservation zone to the west and the Sunrise Easement to the east. It includes almost nine miles of shore frontage on Wabassus Lake and the Getchell Pugs, four miles of streams in the St. Croix River watershed (which includes the Wabassus drainage), another two miles of Machias tributary streams, and 550 acres of wetlands. The various wetland complexes in the forests, ranging from beaver flowages to peat bogs, heaths, and vernal pools, provide important habitat for wildlife.
Wabassus Lake, with its undeveloped shorelines, scenic views, and trophy smallmouth bass protected by catch-and-release fishing regulations, is a critical resource for the region’s Registered Maine Guides. Dale Tobey, then President of the Grand Lake Stream Guides Association (whose membership constitutes the state’s highest concentration of guides), estimated that 90% of local guides bring clients to Wabassus Lake at least once a week throughout the summer. The clients on these trips make vital contributions to the Downeast economy. The scenic views of Wabassus Mountain and Third Lake Ridge from Wabassus Lake, the Machias Lakes, and other water bodies are important to the experience of visitors and the business of guides.
The tract surrounded a traditional travel route for Native Americans, connecting the Machias and St. Croix River watersheds via the Getchell Pugs and Wabassus Lake. Today, flat- and white-water canoe and kayak enthusiasts use this same route for recreational paddling.
Yacolucci Woods is a unique part of Downeast Lakes Land Trust’s (DLLT) conservation land. The 100-acre property was generously donated to DLLT by the Estate of Robert Yacolucci in May 2014. Mr. Yacolucci purchased the forested land in 2004 with hopes to build a home. Because of his dedication to wildlife, he employed a local forester and developed a plan to improve habitat on the parcel. Yacolucci Woods is located in Talmadge, and is easily accessible on the west side of Route 1. To its south and west, the property abuts the Sunrise Easement
Along with the donation of the property, Mr. Yacolucci bequested a generous endowment. The stewardship endowment will provide DLLT with income to fund property tax payments and management of the property. A committee of Talmadge and Waite residents formed to help with land use and management. DLLT offers access for walking, bird-watching, or hunting.
DLLT encourages landowners to contact the trust in advance if considering a gift of land. Larger parcels, those with unique habitat or recreational values, and those adjacent to existing conserved lands, are most likely to support the DLLT mission of contributing to the economic and environmental well-being of the Downeast Lakes region.
Beginning in 2008, DLLT embarked on an eight-year campaign to complete the purchase of the “West Grand Lake Project” (WGLP). A parcel of land that holds significant ecological and cultural value to local residents, the West Grand Lake Project encompasses 21,870 acres, stretching from the eastern shoreline of West Grand Lake to Big Musquash Stream. The property contains important wildlife habitat and provides critical points of access to outdoor enthusiasts and local camp owners.
For the campaign to purchase this fee land, Downeast Lakes Land Trust partnered with The Lyme Timber Company of Hanover, NH. Lyme purchased the WGLP, with the intent to conserve, allowing DLLT ample time to raise the money needed for outright purchase.
Citizens of Grand Lake Stream unanimously supported this project with a $40,000 contribution. At the national level, this project was the #1 forest conservation priority, selected through a rigorous competitive process by the U.S. Forest Service Forest Legacy Program for 2011. On December 18, 2012, Downeast Lakes Land Trust and Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry announced the Department’s purchase of a conservation easement on 21,870 acres in Grand Lake Stream from The Lyme Timber Company. Included in the WGLP is the 7,100 acre Amazon-Musquash Reserve and Special Management Area, with a conservation easement held by the Forest Society of Maine.
The eight-year campaign to purchase the WGLP raised $19.4 million, and fulfilled a 370,000 acre community-led conservation vision in the Downeast Lakes region. The purchase was officially completed on July 1, 2016, and added to adjacent DLLT fee land, creating the 55,678 acre Downeast Lakes Community Forest.
In 2019, Downeast Lakes Land Trust, working with a group of concerned residents and camp owners, and in collaboration with The Trust for Public Land (TPL), launched an initiative to acquire 2,015 acres in Lakeville, ME. The parcel has more than a mile of undeveloped frontage on the northeastern shore of Sysladobsis Lake and Horseshoe Lake. Hosting a variety of wetlands, streams, and forest ecosystems, the property quickly became a conservation priority for Northern New England.
The USDA Community Forest Program granted The Lakeville Forest Project $600,000 toward the purchase price of the property. The project was ranked the #1 USDA Community Forest Program priority in the nation for the 2020 cycle, and was praised for its deep-rooted community support! In addition, the Land For Maine’s Future Program contributed $710,000 to the purchase, along with many generous individual supporters from across the country.
The $2.7 million campaign concluded in November 2021, with the addition of the Lakeville Forest Tract to the Downeast Lakes Community Forest, which now encompasses 57,703 acres in the Downeast Lakes region.