Penobscot’s Wallamatogus Mountain affords panoramic views of Penobscot Bay, the Camden Hills and Mount Desert Island. ELLSWORTH AMERICAN PHOTO BY MAGGIE TROVATO

Conservation through collaboration: Public access assured on small mountain

By Maggie Trovato

PENOBSCOT — From its summit, Wallamatogus Mountain commands a sweeping view of Penobscot Bay. Low-bush blueberries, peppered with granite and schist rocks, cover the slopes. The Camden Hills loom to the south. To the east, Cadillac and other Mount Desert Island peaks emerge from behind Blue Hill Mountain. On clear days, lofty, whirling windmills stand out on the distant island of Islesboro.

Unfamiliar to many Mainers, Wallamatogus — a Wabanaki term for a place where a brook runs into a cove — may refer to the cove at the head of Bagaduce Narrows. Nearly 500 feet high, the little-known mountain will be protected in perpetuity thanks to a collaborative effort between The Conservation Fund, Blue Hill Heritage Trust (BHHT) and Maine Coast Heritage Trust (MCHT). In mid-August, the collaborators seeking to acquire 336 acres on the hill achieved their $1.4 million fundraising goal with the additional award of $326,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Forest Service’s Community Forest and Open Space Conservation Program. The award added to a Land for Maine’s Future grant of $400,000 as well as several private donations.

“This project is the biggest fundraising effort we have ever undertaken for a single property, and we had to take a leap of faith a year ago when we started.” Hans Carlson, executive director of the trust, said earlier this past summer, referring to the almost year-long fundraising campaign. “Knowing LMF [Land for Maine’s Future] was there as a possible funder made it possible for us to see a path to success, and to take that leap.”

When the 336-acre tract on the mountain’s southern slope went on the market, community members appealed to BHHT to “save” the mountain and preserve the public access. The Conservation Fund, which has owned the property, agreed to hold it for three years until Blue Hill and Maine Coast heritage trusts raised sufficient funds to purchase and maintain the land.

Wallamatogus also is called Mount Togus. For generations, locals have hiked, birdwatched and have hunted deer or turkey on the mountain’s southern slope.

“This is critically important to people and nature,” said Tom Duffus, The Conservation Fund’s vice president and northeast representative. “I applaud the community and Blue Hill Heritage Trust for their fundraising efforts and commitment to the future of this magnificent place of national importance to conservation.”

The recent 336-acre acquisition is part of a larger, joint initiative by Blue Hill and Maine Coast heritage trusts to conserve land in the Bagaduce watershed. Through BHHT, more than 12,000 acres have been preserved across the Blue Hill Peninsula. Scattered across the peninsula, the preserves range widely in terrain and features from a sweeping view over blueberry fields from Sedgwick’s Caterpillar Hill to the Heart of Blue Hill Trail System, a 0.5-mile trail, winding through Blue Hill village.

Bailey Bowden, a Penobscot resident and descendant of the town’s original settlers, was among those concerned about Mount Togus passing into private hands. The access road historically was used by blueberry rakers.

“It would be a shame to see that open space be used for human development — whether that’s a McMansion or subdivision, a solar field or windmills,” Bowden said. “That would really disrupt the rural character of the mountain and the town.”

Earlier this past summer, BHHT’s development director, Chrissy Beardsley Allen, led a hike — geared for children and novice hikers — up the rocky, winding woods road leading to Togus’s summit. A soaring eagle, searching for river herring in the Bagaduce River, is a more common sight than other hikers. Some Penobscot residents like that the mountain is lesser known.

“It’s so important to get local input because we wouldn’t be doing this if it weren’t for the folks who really care about this place,” Allen explained on the hike.

Descending Togus, a local resident approached Allen expressing concerns about a potential increase in the volume of visitors. Such encounters are not uncommon. Originally from Surry, with ancestors dating back to Blue Hill’s founding, Allen can relate. She has a deep connection — not only the land, but the community — to the Blue Hill Peninsula.

Though she didn’t climb the mountain as a child, Allen’s mother, who grew up in Penobscot, did.

“Especially in high school,” she said. “She and her friends would come here and get up to no good.”

In the near future, BHHT plans to install a trailhead kiosk featuring a map of the property and important information. The Mount Togus preserve also will be listed in the trust’s trail guide and on Google Maps.

Bowden enjoys going up the mountain, usually on a whim, to get a good view of the night sky.

“With coyotes howling in the background or owls hooting, it’s a pretty cool place to be,” he said.

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