By Sean Fitzpatrick
To serious lovers of the outdoors, the 100-Mile Wilderness is the stuff of legend. This hikers’ Mecca draws adventurers from around the world, challenging them to a weeklong hike with no modern amenities and no paved roads. Teenagers become adults here, artists find inspiration and wanderers glimpse nature’s timelessness.
As the wildest stretch of the Appalachian Trail (AT), the section takes hikers across roaring streams, through tunnels of dense forest, past still ponds and mysterious bogs, and over rugged ridges with panoramic views before finally leading them into Baxter State Park for the AT’s northern terminus atop legendary Mount Katahdin.
While the AT itself sits within a protected corridor, the surrounding forests are facing increased threats from fragmentation. So in 2010, The Nature Conservancy and the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) partnered to make the 100-Mile Wilderness a bit wilder.
AMC closed on its purchase of the 29,500- acre Roach Ponds parcel along the AT in fall 2009, as one part of the Moosehead Forest Conservation Project, and the Conservancy is contributing $2.5 million toward the $11.5 million purchase price. As part of the partnership, the Conservancy supported AMC’s goal that portions of the parcel be managed as ecological reserves—“forever wild” areas where nature is allowed to run its course.
This year, scientists from the two groups collaborated to identify the best places to locate these reserves.
“We came up with two unique reserve areas,” explains Barbara Vickery, the Conservancy’s director of conservation programs in Maine.
“The northern reserve protects the shorelines of five “Great Ponds,” while the southern reserve abuts some four miles of the AT and protects the headwaters of the West Branch of the Pleasant River.”
“We’re thrilled to partner with the Conservancy on this,” says AMC Vice President Walter Graff. “This project has enabled AMC and the Conservancy to amplify the impact of our complimentary missions and expertise. Both organizations have a long history in conservation, and we know that protecting biodiversity, and low-impact recreation opportunities, are compatible goals. The reserve plan for the Roach tract exemplifies that synergy.”
The process also informed AMC’s larger land-use plan here.
“It’s important that AMC manage the area for multiple uses,” says Graff. “In addition to ecological reserves, we’ll expand recreation opportunities here, through new hiking trails, a pond-to-pond paddle trail and new remote campsites. We’ll also manage select areas for forestry to help sustain local economies and traditions.”
“At the end of the day, we are restoring the area’s natural character while supporting the needs of people, and that,” says Graff, “is really wild.”