While we worriedly await legislative action on legislation sponsored by Senator Roger Katz that would allow the sale of voter-approved bonds for the Land for Maine’s Future Program, fearful that legislative divisions and dysfunction will derail the bill and the LMF program, I want to share with you a story I wrote a few years ago for a special publication of The Nature Conservancy.
Even if the legislature enacts Roger’s bill, so the bonds can be sold, the Governor still must sign a financial order for every project – giving him yet another opportunity to destroy the program and kill the pending projects. I titled this story “Special Places Special Times,” but today, perhaps it should be “Remembering the Land for Maine’s Future Program – Fondly.”
His six-year-old grandson sits in the front seat of the old aluminum canoe and casts a jig toward shore, working it back as skillfully as a professional bass angler, while his grandfather watches with a mixture of love, pride, and anticipation. There! An eager smallmouth grabs the jig, the boy lifts the rod the fish is on, the fish is up and out of the water!
“That’s a huge fish, Addison,” I exclaim. His smile tells me that the public purchase of the land surrounding this remote pond in the Kennebec Highlands was a very wise decision. The Highlands is now not only a place where we shared a special experience, but an important part of grandson Addison Mellor’s outdoor heritage, guaranteed to deliver the same experiences to grandsons and grandfathers into the future.
The pond sits in the midst of an astonishing 6,000 acre tract of mountains, blueberry barrens, remote ponds full of bass and brook trout, birds, beaver, and even bears, and trails for ATVs, snowmobiles, hikers, and bikers, just 15 miles from the Capitol, purchased with money from the Land for Maine’s Future Fund and other donors.
Typical for LMF purchases, the project was led by a land trust, the Belgrade Regional Conservation Alliance, which raised matching funds. Maine’s Bureau of Parks and Lands now owns and manages the Highlands.
Later that morning, Addison and I watched an Osprey dive into the pond for its lunch, all the entertainment we needed after a special morning when the catching was as good as the fishing. I once hunted and fished this area when it was privately owned, and saw no need for it to be purchased by the public. But the days when we enjoyed unfettered access to private land in Maine are over.
For the last decade, an epidemic of posted signs has squeezed sportsmen into smaller and smaller parcels. Recreational leasing of private lands has also established a foothold in Maine, and will expand as it has in every other state. Public lands will be increasingly important if Mainers without money – and that’s most of us – are to have places to hunt and fish.
As an avid angler, I’m also well aware that we have no rights of access to moving water: rivers, streams, and brooks. Ten percent of LMF’s money is dedicated to water access and almost every LMF project includes frontage on some body of water.
Collectively we’ve been smart to support the LMF program and to aggressively pursue federal funds including Forest Legacy and Land and Water Conservation, to protect wildlife habitat and secure rights of access and use. The nonprofit community, led by The Nature Conservancy, has played a huge role in this conservation era in Maine, and I’m proud of the supporting role sportsmen have played.
A week after I fished with Addison, wife Linda and I were birding on the sandbar in South Lubec, another fabulous LMF purchase led by TNC. This place is very special to me because my Mom grew up within sight of it. It may be the best place in Maine to see migrating shorebirds.
As a group of Semipalmated Sandpipers sat down in front of us, I thanked God that this gorgeous place – a place that defines our state and makes it special – is protected and will be here for future generations.