Molly Ondich (left), Steve Macdonald of American Forest Management and Sadie Ondich gather on a tract of land the Ondich family has purchased with the intent of conserving. STEVE ONDICH PHOTO

California family conserving land in Washington County



HARRINGTON — A family vacation turned into a conservation project involving 150 acres of forest land in Harrington and Whiting.

In July 2018, the Ondich family of Upland, Calif., vacationed in Washington County. Shortly after returning home, they purchased the 150-acre tract with the goal of conserving the property. The following year, when the family returned to Maine and toured Petit Manan Wildlife Refuge in Steuben, they mentioned their conservation project to their guide, Hazel Stark, co-founder of the Maine Outdoor School. Stark encouraged them to speak with her husband, Joe Horn, who is on the board of the Downeast Salmon Federation.

So began a partnership that also includes American Forest Management and the Maine Forest Service.

“Basically, we wanted to craft a plan that would turn an idle woodlot into healthy, well-managed working land over time,” said Steve Ondich. “Years from now, we want to look back and be able to say that we’ve made a positive impact on the land.”

His wife, Heidi, agrees.

“As a longtime resident of Southern California, I have seen my fair share of natural resources being used and sadly abused,” she said.

The first step in their project was to put together a forest management plan with the help of American Forest Management.

The plan will “allow for the forest to mature, as well as provide some timber, and create hiking trails,” said Tanya Rucosky, Downeast Salmon Federation director. The Ondich family and DSF are working on an easement that will ensure the property is ecologically managed in perpetuity.

“We want to make the overgrown logging roads, [which are] now pretty inaccessible, into a walking path,” said Steve Ondich, adding that he’d like to see area schools bring children there on field trips. The tract offers some interesting features, including cedar trees and Curtis Creek, an important and environmentally sensitive habitat.

“Curtis Creek is a modeled endangered Atlantic salmon breeding and rearing habitat as well as a documented rainbow smelt stream,” Rucosky said. “Rainbow smelt are generally in decline, thus, protecting their habitat is crucial to their survival. This property will be included in the ongoing smelt population surveys. Last year we found hundreds of smelt and an egg bed at Curtis Creek.”

Although the property has not been logged for more than a half century, the land probably at one time provided lumber for Harrington’s shipbuilding industry, she said. Peat moss also was harvested from a bog on the property in the past.

The two Ondich children, Sadie, 11, and Molly, 16, are taking active roles in the project.

“Teaching our children to be good stewards of the environment is important,” Heidi Ondich said.

Sadie plans to document the property’s native animal species in her journal. “I want to help plan the walking paths to Curtis Creek,” she said.

“Preserving biodiversity is very important to me,” said Molly. “I’m excited to be a part of it firsthand instead of just talking about it.”

Johanna S. Billings

Reporter at The Ellsworth American
News Reporter Johanna S. Billings covers eastern Hancock County and western Washington County. An avid photographer, she lives in Steuben with her husband and several cats. She welcomes tips and story ideas. Email her at [email protected]

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