Conserving land for the benefit of all March 9, 2018 on Commentary, Opinion By Aaron Dority Land conservation in Maine has benefited from bipartisan support for decades. As a local land conservation organization serving the public from the Union River east to the Hancock County line, Frenchman Bay Conservancy welcomes the opportunity to share the benefits that our organization provides to our communities, with the generous support from roughly 900 members. Now in our 31st year of operation, FBC has conserved 7,400 acres, and we maintain over 25 miles of trail where access is free and open to the public year-round. Cooperating with local communities is a key part of our work at Frenchman Bay Conservancy. In collaboration with many local partners, FBC is currently helping develop a community-driven initiative: the Ellsworth Green Plan. By engaging with groups like the Garden Club of Ellsworth, representatives from the city government, Healthy Acadia and numerous other partners, we will help Ellsworth become a healthier place to live, a safer place to walk and bike and a more beautiful, enjoyable, and sustainable community. Back in 2010, we partnered with the city of Ellsworth to conserve nearly 450 acres around the city’s drinking water supply, Branch Lake. This city-owned land is under easement to Frenchman Bay Conservancy, and it provides an excellent opportunity for hunting and outdoor recreation, just a short drive from downtown Ellsworth. The town of Lamoine recently partnered with our organization to conserve a locally important water access point. Marlboro Beach, with extraordinarily productive mud flats especially valuable to wormers and clammers, was purchased by the town in large part with funds raised by FBC. Now the property is publicly owned with a conservation easement held by FBC, ensuring the beach and its tidal mud flats will be open to the public forever. In addition to providing public access to land and water, land trust conserved properties serve as community gathering places. At our Salt Pond Preserve in Hancock, schoolchildren learn about tides and trees firsthand. This past October, at the Jordan Homestead property in Ellsworth (FBC is raising funds to transform this property into a preserve), visitors learned about Ellsworth’s shipbuilding history and the region’s rich farming heritage. On Mondays during the summer, our flagship Tidal Falls Preserve in Hancock becomes a venue for local musicians to showcase their talents to hundreds of visitors, free of charge, and in front of the majestic reversing falls. Because of Maine’s network of 80 land trusts, other regions of the state benefit from the community-oriented approach of land trusts as well. To provide a broader and more accurate picture for policymakers and the public, in 2017 the Maine Land Trust Network surveyed the state’s land trust organizations. The survey found that the public enjoys a diverse network of outdoor recreational areas that rival those offered at state and federal parks, and, with few exceptions, use of these lands is free to all. More specifically, residents and visitors alike will find the following amenities on Maine land trust conserved properties: Hikers will find more than 1,250 miles of trails. These range from family-friendly nature paths to more rugged routes ending atop wind-swept summits, and everything in between. Outdoor recreationalists can enjoy more than 275 miles of mountain bike trails, 345 miles of ATV trails and 570 miles of snowmobile trails. Families are invited to discover more than 200 beaches offering opportunities to swim, picnic and observe wildlife. Paddling and boating enthusiasts can launch at more than 60 saltwater and 140 freshwater boat launch sites, provided and maintained by land trusts. And, believe it or not, more than 90 percent of all lands conserved by Maine land trusts are open to hunting. In other words, more than 2.3 million acres — 10 percent of the state. These land trust-protected properties are especially critical in Maine, a state that continues to lag well behind others when it comes to public lands available for outdoor recreation. In fact, Maine has the lowest percentage of public lands (6.5 percent of the state) of any state east of the Appalachian Mountains. By comparison, more than 17 percent of New Hampshire is publicly owned. And, in Florida, one in every four acres is conservation land owned by the public. To learn more, please visit us at www.frenchmanbay.org. For more information on land trusts and a report of the 2017 survey, visit www.mltn.org. Aaron Dority is the executive director of Frenchman Bay Conservancy. He also serves on the Maine Land Trust Network Steering Committee.