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More than 12,000 forest acres will be permanently protected from development in western Maine

Songo Pond from Chadbourne Tree Farm project, looking south. The hills and most of the intervening forest is all Crooked River Headwaters easement.

A coalition of conservation-minded groups, federal agencies and private landowners today announced that 12,000 acres of forestland in Oxford County has been permanently protected from development with a conservation easement. More than half of the lands filter water into Sebago Lake, the public drinking water supply for much of southern Maine. The project is considered a significant milestone to protect water quality, wildlife and recreation.

Known as the Crooked River Headwaters, the forestlands are located in the towns of Waterford, Greenwood, Norway and Albany township. Philanthropists Mary McFadden and Larry Stifler, owners of the Mineral and Gem Museum in Bethel, began acquiring the parcels in the 1970s.

At a small celebration at the museum, Stifler said he and his wife were happy to have achieved a longtime dream.

"We are thrilled, not just that this property is going to be conserved but we like to pat ourselves on the back and think that over 40 years we've been a role model for other people to begin to think that this is possible and now we're going to preserve a whole lot of land in this county," Stifler said.

Completing the project involved 77 separate deeds. What's also unusual is that the couple donated about two thirds of the value of the conservation easement to the coalition.

"And that is a remarkable thing. It's a truly remarkable, wonderful thing," Duffus said.

Mill Brook Long Mountain_Courtesy Sebago Clean Waters (2).jpg
Courtesy Sebago Clean Waters
The Crooked River Headwaters easement spans more than 12,000 acres that are critical to water quality, carbon sequestration, wildlife habitat and community well-being.

Tom Duffus is a vice president and northeast rep for The Conservation Fund, a national nonprofit that has worked to protect more than eight million acres of land across the U.S., including nearly 480,000 in Maine. He said Stifler and McFadden not only had the foresight to protect the area from development but also to allow their trees to grow. Forests play a critical role in filtering and supporting clean drinking water. And part of these conserved lands feed into the Sebago Lake watershed, the water source for the city of Portland.

"This, obviously, is the headwaters of the Crooked River, which flows into Sebago Lake and provides the drinking water for about 200,000-250,000 Mainers so very, very important," Duffus said.

Oversett Pond_Courtesy of Sebago Clean Waters (2).jpg
Stacey Cramp/Stacey Cramp
The Crooked River Headwaters easement contains mature forests, outstanding moutain vistas, nine pristine ponds and 6 miles of footage on the Crooked River.

Money to purchase the easement came from several sources, including a nearly $2 million grant from the Natural Resources Conservation Service provided to Sebago Clean Waters as well as funding from the Portland Water District and the Nature Conservancy. Karen Young of Sebago Clean Waters says the coalition has an overall goal of conserving an additional 35,000 acres in the watershed which is also critical habitat for fish and wildlife.

"So when we set that goal it was about three years ago and we said, 'In 15 years we want to conserve 35,000 more acres. This project conserves over 7,500 additional acres, so this is getting us a big chunk or it gets us a long way to that goal," Young said.

The forestlands will remain open for hunting, snowmobiling and other recreation such as hiking and biking on several trails that are also permanently protected. The Mahoosuc Land Trust, with help from the Western Foothills Land Trust, will manage the easement which Mary McFadden hopes will be a source of inspiration to other landowners.

"We are just excited about protecting water, capturing carbon, having wildlife corridors," McFadden said. "It's just very exciting and we're just happy to do it."