The Nature Conservancy has long recognized the importance of America’s public lands. Today, the Conservancy supports policy initiatives such as America’s Great Outdoors and urges a permanent commitment to the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
Of course, the Conservancy also has a long history of working with local, state and federal entities to establish and expand popular and iconic places. Bruce Kidman of The Nature Conservancy in Maine compiled his own top 10 list of public lands in Maine that were created or expanded through the work of the Conservancy.
“It was hard to narrow it down to only ten,” explained Bruce. “There are so many possibilities from the coast to the mountains, from the south to the North Woods, but it was fun to look back through the last half century and recall how we’ve worked with government to protect habitat and recreation opportunities in Maine.”
While the sites below represent only a fraction of our projects in Maine, we hope these highlights will inspire you to explore and protect our great outdoors. After all, this land is your land.
A five minute drive from bustling downtown Freeport, Wolfe's Neck Woods State Park offers forest hikes that follow the rocky shores of this peninsula on Casco Bay and the Haraseeket River. The 250-acre park contains white pine and hemlock forests and a salt marsh estuary. When Lawrence M.C. Smith and his wife Eleanor Houston Smith donated this land to the State in 1969, they deeded the Conservancy the right of third party enforcement so that the conservation values of this property would have additional protection.
The Moose River Bow Trip and Number 5 Bog Ecological Reserve gained significant protection in 2009 as the last remaining portions of each were protected through Conservancy purchase. 5,000 acres of the bog, a National Natural Landmark, was transferred to the State as an ecological reserve. Seen from the summits of nearby mountains, its sphagnum carpet of reds, oranges and yellows sets off the cotton grasses, orchids, jack pine and blue-black ponds. The purchase also included the last un-conserved portion of the famous Moose River Bow Trip that draws canoeing families and campers for a three-day circuit from ice out to ice in, and cross-country skiers for winter adventures.
Camden Hills State Park is at the core of the largest tract of undeveloped land along Maine’s mid-coast. With its breathtaking summit views east out over the Camden Village harbor to the islands of Penobscot Bay and west to the ridges and valleys of the interior, a Camden Hills trail packs maximum payoff for the hiker (although the car-bound tourist gets a pretty good return on the drive up Mount Battie). The Conservancy has helped the State acquire three recent parcels — Cameron Mountain, Maiden Cliff and Great Brooks — to better absorb public use, preserve views and, of course, make sure the natural features will be there for generations of visitors into the future.
Sunkhaze Meadows National Wildlife Refuge protects the second-largest and arguably most unique peatland in Maine. Located in Milford just 14 miles north of Bangor, the 10,000-acre refuge contains several raised bogs or domes, separated by extensive areas of streamside meadows. The refuge is open to visitors year-round and offers canoeing, cross-country skiing, environmental education, snowmobiling, wildlife observation, hunting and fishing. When this sanctuary for birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and insects was threatened by peat mining in 1988, the Conservancy purchased it on behalf of the refuge system. More recently, the Conservancy placed an easement on 12,000 acres abutting the refuge to the south.
Donnell Pond Reserve offers a wealth of backcountry recreational opportunities just east of Ellsworth. This 15,500-acre property holds a constellation of ponds and mountains that are perfectly suited to family outings – whether hikes, picnics, canoe trips or camping excursions. Much of this resource would have been lost to private development had it not been for the persistent efforts of the Conservancy, the State and others. The State now owns most of Black, Caribou, Schoodic, Tunk and Fiery Mountains, and more than 40 miles of shoreline on Donnell Pond, Tunk Lake, Spring River Lake and Little Pond. Donnell Pond has sand beaches that invite picnicking and swimming. Donnell Pond, Tunk Lake (reputedly Maine’s clearest lake), and Spring River Lake all have landlocked salmon fisheries.
At 43,000 acres, Nahmakanta is the largest unit in Maine’s public reserved lands system. The Appalachian Trail crosses the unit following the shore of Nahmakanta Lake. The hiking trail along Turtle Ridge crosses densely wooded terrain with panoramic views of surrounding lands including Mt. Katahdin. A popular snowmobile trail crosses the unit linking Millinocket and Greenville. Wooded campsites are accessible by car while lakeshore campsites can be reached by canoe. The unit was among properties the Conservancy helped the State acquire in the late 1980s, and abuts our spectacular 46,000-acre Debsconeag Lakes Wilderness Area.
Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge stretches along the southern Maine coast in eleven separate units. Established in 1966 to protect valuable salt marshes and estuaries for migratory birds, the refuge combines forested upland, barrier beaches and dunes, coastal meadows, tidal salt marsh and rocky coast. These habitats provide home and migratory stop-over for a great variety of wildlife, including 120 species of land birds, more than half of which nest here, for example piping plovers, ternsand scarlet tanager. Look as well for raptors like sharp-shinned and Cooper’s hawks. The Nature Conservancy purchased the 315-acre Goosefare Brook unit on behalf of the refuge when this fragile wetland was threatened by a massive subdivision.
Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge contains more than 50 offshore islands and four coastal parcels, totaling more than 8,100 acres. The complex spans more than 250 miles of Maine coastline and includes five national wildlife refuges — Petit Manan, Cross Island, Franklin Island, Seal Island, and Pond Island. Refuge islands provide habitat for terns, Atlantic puffins; razorbills, black guillemots, Leach's storm-petrels, herring, greater black-backed, and laughing gulls, cormorants and common eiders. In addition to seabirds, wading birds and bald eagles nest on refuge islands. The mainland divisions provide avian habitat, too, as well as opportunities for bird watching and hiking. Many of the islands were first protected through The Nature Conservancy.
With its 700-foot cliffs rising straight from water’s edge, Mount Kineo is an iconic landmark on the shores of 40-mile-long Moosehead Lake. It has been the subject of admiration and story from the times Native Americans traveled great distances to chip flint-like rhyolite from its face for stone tools. Both Henry David Thoreau and later Teddy Roosevelt were struck by its beauty. Kineo offers panoramic views across Moosehead Lake and in all directions to such mountains as Big and Little Spencer, Big Moose and Boundary Bald. Mount Kineo was one of the first acquisitions the Conservancy completed on behalf of the State of Maine pairing private donations with Land for Maine’s Future funds.
Baxter State Park is the North Maine Woods’ signature wilderness area. Beginning in 1930 with the purchase of Mount Katahdin, the state’s highest peak, the 202,000-acre park was pieced together by Governor Percival Baxter and donated, in a stroke of astonishing generosity, to the people of Maine. The park encompasses 46 mountains, 175 miles of trails and a variety of camping experiences. In recent years the Conservancy has buffered the park’s western and southern boundaries with a nearly 200,000-acre conservation easement that limits development while allowing the land to be managed for forest products and preserving those spectacular views from atop Mount Katahdin.
America’s first national park east of the Mississippi, Acadia National Park has drawn millions of people to discover the rugged beauty of coastal Maine. Early 20th-century visionaries championed and created the park, donating land and funding the creation of its famous carriage roads and facilities. Centered on Mount Desert Island, the park covers numerous additional islands from Penobscot Bay to Frenchman Bay. The Nature Conservancy has added more than 300 acres to Acadia, including Long Porcupine, Baker and Schoodic Islands, providing “off the beaten path” experiences for humans as well as hospitable habitat for bald eagles and other nesting birds.