Ten states and two time zones to the northeast, in Bald Mountain Township, Maine, the concern was less about generating commercial activity than keeping it at bay. The Appalachian National Scenic Trail runs along the property at Moxie Bald Mountain that Trust for Public Land recently helped protect. And like many areas around the trail, especially in Maine, development and industrial-scale timber harvesting have crept closer in recent decades.
According to Simon Rucker, executive director of the Maine Appalachian Trail Land Trust, the Appalachian Trail (AT) was laid out starting in the late 1920s. The portion in Maine was protected via “handshake deals” with timber companies. But in 1968, the federal government appropriated funds to the National Park Service to buy the trail. There was only enough money to acquire a strip of land, however. “Down south, the AT goes through Great Smoky Mountains National Park,” Rucker says. “In Maine, there is very little of that kind of protection. A lot of the trail is 500-feet wide, just a corridor.”
Such was the case in Somerset County, about three and a half hours north of Portland by car. For years, various timber companies had owned several hundred thousand acres of forest there. But conservationists set their sights on a 2,600-acre corner of the vast timberland, which included the majestic Moxie Bald Mountain, as well as Bald Mountain Pond, and a stretch of the Appalachian Trail that crosses over the summit.
J.T. Horn, director of Trust for Public Land’s national Trails initiative, first learned about Moxie Bald Mountain in 2002 when he was with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. “I thought, ‘Wow, this is really cool,’ but it wasn’t the right moment,” he recalls. “The timber company that owned it at the time wasn’t ready to sell.”
Fast-forward a dozen years, and the owner was receptive to a conservation deal. The forest surrounding the trail, along with Bald Mountain Pond, had long been available to hikers and paddlers through an informal agreement. But future access wasn’t assured. “It’s a classic Maine adventure—a paddle-hike combination,” Horn points out. “It’s not for the faint of heart. It is a wilderness experience, and it’s way out there. But it’s also one of those experiences that really makes your jaw drop.”
It’s a classic Maine adventure . . . one of those experiences that really makes your jaw drop.” – J.T. Horn, Trust for Public Land’s national Trails initiative director
In 2020, Trust for Public Land announced the permanent protection of more than 2,620 acres of land at Bald Mountain Pond. The conservation deal included three phases—and three different owners. The National Park Service assumed ownership of 1,356 acres of the mountain. The Maine Appalachian Trail Land Trust took possession of more than 1,000 acres around the pond, including 9 miles of shoreline. And the state of Maine acquired acreage at the pond’s southern tip, where there is now a parking area and boat launch.
Conservation of the property created an important buffer along 5 miles of the AT and guaranteed public access to Bald Mountain Pond via private logging roads. To access the pond, you either need to be a thru-hiker on the Appalachian Trail—the nearest paved road is days away on foot—or strap a kayak to an all-wheel drive vehicle and navigate the logging road.
Either way, the experience is remote, wild, and pristine. “You are on a dirt road that’s in pretty rough shape for 15 miles to reach Bald Mountain Pond,” Rucker says. “That’s an area where there are still active logging operations. But the conservation land forms enough of a buffer, so that when you’re on the pond, you don’t hear any of that.”
A day trip might include kayaking or canoeing north across the pond, which is home to landlocked Arctic char. At the opposite shore is a lean-to, near where you can pick up the Appalachian Trail for the 2,630-foot climb up Moxie Bald Mountain. The hiking app AllTrails describes the 4-mile out-and-back trail as “moderately challenging,” adding that “it’s unlikely you’ll encounter many other people while exploring.”
“From the top, you can see the Bigelow Range, Sugarloaf and Saddleback Mountains, and the 100-Mile Wilderness,” Rucker notes. “When you are up there on a clear day, you can see well into Canada. And then you hike down and get back in your canoe and you can be home by dinner.”
In addition to identifying sources of public money for the conservation project, Trust for Public Land helped raise private funds. Support came from the National Park Trust, the National Park Foundation, and the Elliotsville Foundation, among others.
Lucas St. Clair is president of the Elliotsville Foundation, which focuses on conservation in Maine. He describes Moxie Bald Mountain as a classic northern hardwood forest, with fir and spruce mixed in. “It’s a great trail,” says St. Clair, who also chairs Trust for Public Land’s National Board of Directors. “You see evidence of moose, and there are Canada lynx and bobcats and a whole host of songbirds, especially if you are there in the spring during migration.”
In the late 1990s, St. Clair and his twin sister hiked the length of the Appalachian Trail, from Georgia to Maine. (Tellingly, the AT’s first full thru-hiker was a World War II veteran seeking to “walk off the war,” a testament to nature’s healing power.) “Maine is one of the most wild places along the whole stretch, where you really feel like you are in wilderness,” explains St. Clair. “But there are subtle reminders that you are hiking through industrial forestland. You cross logging roads and you hear machinery and pulp trucks in the distance. Not that we are opposed to forestry, but it can feel disorienting when you are there for an outdoor wilderness experience.”
His family foundation (started by St. Clair’s mother and Burt’s Bees cofounder, Roxanne Quimby) has devoted its resources to preserving a sense of wilderness, protecting some 20,000 acres along the AT in Maine. The foundation gave $1.1 million, for instance, toward conservation of Moxie Bald Mountain. “We work to protect the AT’s treadway and the experience for thru-hikers, but also to provide access points,” he says. “The majority of users of the Appalachian Trail are not thru-hikers, but people who are experiencing it somewhere along the way.”
For TPL, the project at Moxie Bald Mountain was the latest in a string of conservation efforts along the Appalachian Trail. Trust for Public Land has completed more than 140 such projects, protecting 310,000 acres. The Maine Appalachian Trail Land Trust had described Bald Mountain Pond as the highest priority conservation project on the AT in Maine.
“The whole reason why people fall in love with the Appalachian Trail extends far beyond the narrow footpath,” Horn says. “Where you have this old-growth forest, these big views and these big lakes, expanding the buffer of protected area is really important so that people can immerse themselves in wilderness.” Now, thankfully, such wilderness experiences are protected indefinitely in Colorado and Maine.