White Mountain Hiking Trail Access Protected (ME)

MASON TOWNSHIP, MAINE, 4/28/2009: The Trust for Public Land (TPL) and the U.S. Forest Service today announced the protection of 664 acres of land, including the public trailheads for the Miles Notch Trail and the Haystack Notch Trail. These trails provide access to the Caribou Speckled Wilderness, one of only two federally designated Wilderness areas in Maine. The land will be transferred and added to the White Mountain National Forest.

Funding for the $500,000 acquisition came from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund through congressionally approved appropriations supported by U.S. Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins and Representative Michael Michaud. The funding was also proposed by the Forest Service as a top priority in its fiscal year 2008 budget.

“TPL is extremely grateful to Maine’s congressional delegation for working so hard to secure the funding for this critical project. Without the support from Senators Snowe and Collins and Representative Michaud, the Haystack Notch property would have been lost to development. Their long standing support for conservation in Maine is truly remarkable,” said Sam Hodder, the outgoing Maine State Director for TPL.

“The Haystack Notch project is truly a testament to the determination of the people of Maine to preserve and protect the natural wonders of our state,” Senator Snowe said. “This grassroots effort united a community behind the common cause of environmental stewardship and will enable locals and tourists alike to enjoy these cherished trailheads. I am proud to see Maine’s longstanding tradition of wilderness conservation continued by the people of Mason Township and Oxford County and protected for generations to come.”

“The people of Maine have always been faithful stewards of our environment because we understand its tremendous value to our way of life,” said Senator Collins. “Maine’s natural resources have helped to shape the economic, environmental, and recreational character of our entire state. This protected land helps continue that stewardship and provide opportunity for Mainers to enjoy the beautiful Caribou Speckled Wilderness.”

“The Haystack Notch project is another outstanding example of community-supported land conservation,” said Representative Michaud. “This acquisition protects essential public access routes to significant regional hiking trails while also protecting these lands for hunting and fishing. Without the leadership and support of the people of Mason Township and Oxford County along with The Trust for Public Land, this project would not have been accomplished.”

The property became available on the open real estate market in 2006 and there was concern locally that the property would be developed for second homes, closing access to the trailheads. TPL, a national non-profit land conservation organization, stepped in to purchase the property in February 2007 allowing time to develop a conservation plan. After consulting with neighbors, the Oxford County Commissioners, and the Forest Service, TPL proposed permanent protection of the property by adding it to the White Mountain National Forest. Forest Service ownership guarantees public access for hiking, hunting, and fishing, and assures sensitive management of the natural and cultural resources on the property.

In 2007, Mason Township residents circulated a petition supporting federal acquisition of the Haystack Notch parcel. Spearheaded by Serena Williams, the petition included signatures from all but one of the township’s 30 households and forwarded to the Maine congressional delegation and the Forest Service. Many additional letters from local residents followed, voicing their own support of this conservation project. With the support of the community and the Forest Service, TPL embarked on a two-year process to raise funds and complete the due diligence needed for a public acquisition.

“I am so pleased to see this part of our town protected from development,” said Serena Williams. “There was great concern in the community that this parcel would be developed or closed to public access. People have been going to these woods for generations to hike, hunt, and fish and the conservation of the property will protect those traditional uses. With the collective effort of the community and support from the congressional delegation we have successfully conserved a beautiful piece of Mason Township.”

The Haystack Notch Conservation Project is part of TPL’s larger White Mountains Conservation Initiative-a collaborative effort to protect key forestlands and secure public access to critical trailheads and hiking paths in the White Mountains. The Initiative was designed to respond to threats facing trails and private forests in the White Mountains. For example, land sales and construction have forced the abandonment of at least six trails and the relocation of more than 15 others in the past 25 years. Since 1998, TPL has worked with the Forest Service and a variety of conservation organizations to conserve six properties, consisting of more than 14,000 acres, and permanently protect four trailheads and more than 20 miles of trail.

“After talking with the community we knew that this was a beloved piece of land and that it was worth taking a risk to try to permanently conserve it,” said Rodger Krussman, New Hampshire State director for TPL. “We have been working for more than ten years to protect the hiking trails and trailheads in the White Mountains and we knew that if this property was developed we would lose a key access point to the Wilderness area.”

“This acquisition came about as a result of the unique efforts of the residents of Mason Township-who started and continued to provide a voice that this land be conserved-along with the special efforts of TPL and other partners,” said Katherine Stuart, Androscoggin District Ranger. “It provides permanent protection for the Miles Notch and Haystack Notch Trailheads, upper portions of the West Branch Pleasant River, and provides links to the Caribou-Speckled Wilderness, and offers a place for long-term sustainable forestry. Thanks to the citizens of Mason, this land will be forever open to the public where nature awaits to provide the companionship of forests, mountains, streams, a glimpse of wildlife, and spectacular scenery.”

Due to the efforts of Senators Snowe and Collins, funds that had been diverted to help fight fires in the west were restored for this project. The property was transferred to the White Mountain National Forest in March. The hiking trails are open for pedestrian use year round, although the road access to the trails is not maintained in the winter months.

The Trust for Public Land is a national nonprofit land conservation organization that conserves land for people to enjoy as parks, gardens, and other natural places, ensuring livable communities for generations to come. Since the launch of the White Mountain Trailhead protection program in 1998, TPL has conserved over 14,000 acres of trail properties in the White Mountain National Forest including 22.3 miles of trails and 4 trailheads.