The Downeast Lakes region has a long and rich history as a destination for outdoor recreation and local industry based on the natural resources of the forests and lakes.
The Passamaquoddy and Penobscot Indians are descendants of the Native American people of Maine and western New Brunswick and have a heritage that dates back many centuries. Indian Township, along the St. Croix River, was formally conveyed to the Passamaquoddy Tribe in the Treaty of 1794, along with Pleasant Point on Passamaquoddy Bay. The Maine Indian Land Claims settlement in 1980 allowed the Tribe to obtain substantial additional acreage, much of which is to the northwest of the Downeast Lakes Community Forest.
Grand Lake Stream was first known as Township 3, Range 1, then in 1811 was purchased by Samuel Hinckley and became Hinckley Township, until it was renamed Grand Lake Stream Plantation in 1897. Moses Bonney was Princeton’s first settler in 1815, and David Cass became one of the first Hinckley Plantation settlers in 1820. The first industry was lumbering, supporting log drives down the Saint Croix and Machias Rivers. Princeton was incorporated in 1832, and its first lumber mill was built by Put Rolfe in 1852. Steamships began towing booms of logs across Big Lake in 1854.
The first railroad reached Princeton in 1854, and that year William Gould built a landing near the mouth of Grand Lake Stream, providing access to Grand Lake Stream for sportsmen who tented along the stream while fishing for salmon, guided by Passamaquoddy Indians. By the 1890s boarding houses and cottages in Grand Lake Stream catered to sportsmen, while Princeton was a busy town. Many residents used their expert knowledge of the woods to serve as Guides for visiting sportsmen. Canoe builders learned to design boats that could handle the Grand Lakes, and when outboard motors became available, adapted by adding a square stern, creating the modern Grand Lake Canoe.
The high concentration of hemlock in the surrounding forests led the Shaw brothers to purchase the Township in 1870 and establish a tannery. The natural tannins in hemlock bark were the essential resource needed to cure hides. The tannery became the largest in the world, but failed and was bankrupt by 1898. The St. Croix Paper Company opened their Woodland Mill in Baileyville in 1906, which is now owned and operated by Woodland Pulp, LLC as a pulp mill and remains the region’s largest employer.
Before the turn of the century, the railroad brought many travelers and supported more sporting camps in Princeton and Grand Lake Stream. Many of these camps and lodges are still in business today, with remarkably few ownership changes over the decades.
In 1992, the Georgia-Pacific Corporation proposed to subdivide 260 acres along Grand Lake Stream. In response, the residents voted unanimously at a town meeting to oppose the subdivision. Later, residents and the Maine Coast Heritage Trust convinced the company to sell the land. Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife now owns the property, and the public is guaranteed access for not only its traditional use as the finest native landlocked salmon fishery in the U.S., but also for canoe access, sight-seeing, picnicking, or bird-watching. The conserved lands include an ancient Abenaki canoe route and petroglyphs at Big and Little Falls.
In the late 1990s, when Georgia-Pacific sold 446,000 acres to undisclosed buyers, local residents were once again motivated to take action. They formed the grassroots “Friends of the Downeast Lakes” and began discussing their concerns about access to, and use of, the land with Wagner Forest Management, the landowner’s representative. With help from the Northern Forest Alliance, The Wilderness Society, Sweet Water Trust, and others, the Friends of the Downeast Lakes completed a landscape analysis and ecological assessment to identify cultural and ecological values of the land.
By December 2001, the Friends of the Downeast Lakes had become a full-fledged nonprofit, the Downeast Lakes Land Trust. Committed to the long-term economic and environmental well-being of the Downeast Lakes region through the conservation and exemplary management of its woods and waters, DLLT decided that nothing short of ownership of their land base would achieve this goal.
For DLLT, economic concerns have always been a primary source of motivation to protect natural resources. DLLT remains rooted in the local community and led by local community members. The economic well-being of the communities in and around the Downeast Lakes region remains central to the work of DLLT.
To view the conservation successes of the Downeast Lakes Land Trust, please visit this page.