RANGELEY LAKES HERITAGE TRUST’S
RLHT Closes on Kennebago Woodlands
October 19, 2023
This parcel is the fifth RLHT conservation project completed with Bayroot, LLC and Wagner Forest Management (landowner and manager), including the Kennebago Wildlands, South Bog Conservation Area, the Cupsuptic Lake Park and Campground, and Height of Land.
RLHT’s current acquisition is part of a larger Kennebago Headwaters project to conserve one of the most resilient and intact wild brook trout fisheries in the United States and a watershed with exceptional habitat for fish, wildlife, and birds. Thanks to its varied elevations and complex hydrology (cold headwater streams, deep lakes, bogs, and extensive wetlands), the Kennebago Headwaters is a bastion of fish and wildlife resilience against climate change. The watershed hosts a network of dirt roads providing a vital route to transport sustainable forest products and outdoor enthusiasts, which is essential to the region’s economy. Our valued partner, The Forest Society of Maine, will hold an easement on the Kennebago Woodlands.
CONSERVE, RESTORE, STEWARD
RLHT works to conserve, restore, and steward the lands and waters of the million-acre Rangeley Region.
This critical project has been years in the making, with early negotiations commencing in 2008. This current iteration began with the purchase of the Kennebago Wildlands, 1,731 acres of forest, shorefront, and wetlands, including over two miles of undeveloped shorefront and uplands surrounding 190-acre Little Kennebago Lake and nine miles of frontage on the upper Kennebago River from Crowley Brook to Little Kennebago Lake.
Phase two is RLHT’s purchase of the Kennebago Wildlands, a working forest that RLHT will manage to conserve fish and wildlife habitat and enhance climate change resilience. Forest management will focus on sustainable harvesting for long-term health, increased carbon sequestration, storage, and biodiversity.
Funders for the Kennebago project include an anonymous donor, the EJK, Firebird, PARC, and Summerhill Foundations, the State of Maine’s Land for Maine’s Future program, the Open Space Institute’s (OSI) Appalachian Landscapes Protection Fund, the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Gulf of Maine Coastal Program, the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, Franklin County TIF, and many generous private donors.
“The Open Space Institute was proud to help make this conservation victory possible through our Appalachian Landscapes Protection Fund,” said Joel Houser, OSI’s Director of Capital Grants. “This fund was developed to protect the lands across the vast Appalachian Range, which harbor a vast amount of atmospheric carbon. Conservation of this land safeguards vulnerable species and land for climate protection. We congratulate our partners at RLHT for this wonderful environmental achievement.”
Partners include Drummond Woodsum, the Forest Society of Maine, Bayroot, LLC and Wagner Forest Management, Maine Coast Heritage Trust Wetlands Coalition, Black Brook LLC, Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, The Rangeley Region Guides and Sportsmen Association, The Conservation Fund, Main-Land Development Consultants, The Nature Conservancy of Maine, Trout Unlimited, M&H Construction, Field Geology, Dirigo Engineering, Dirigo Timberlands, US Fish and Wildlife Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge, Seven Islands Land Company, Legacy Appraisal Services, Maine Natural Areas Program, Paul Rezendes Photography, Terry Guen Design Associates, MaineDOT Scenic Byways Project Leader Larry Johannesman, ASLA, Senior Conservation Biologist at The Wilderness Society Pete Mckinley, the Maine Mountain Collaborative, Steve Tatko of the Appalachian Mountain Club, Plisga & Day Land Surveyors, and others.
RLHT received $1.6 million to help conserve the headwaters of the Kennebago River and its outstanding fish and wildlife resources through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services’ North American Wetlands Conservation Act and $1 million to restore the upper Kennebago watershed with a Congressionally Directed Spending grant through the office of Senator Collins. “The Kennebago River and its watershed play a key role in sustaining the health of Maine’s environment by providing high-quality habitats for fish, migratory birds, and other wildlife,” said Senators Collins and King in a joint statement. “We welcome this important investment in conservation, which will help preserve the Kennebago River’s pristine waters and provide fishing and other outdoor recreational opportunities for Mainers.”
Anticipated to close in December, the third phase of the Headwaters Acquisition is to acquire a conservation easement of 3,000 adjacent acres along the shores of Kennebago Lake and the surrounding wetland area known as the Logans. The acreage was recently acquired by Black Brook, LLC, which has been working with RLHT on a conservation easement to conserve those areas permanently.
All three tracts are contiguous. Together, these acquisitions will protect 1000 wetland acres, 9 miles of undeveloped lake and pond frontage, and 15 miles of intact, wooded riparian area on the Kennebago River and smaller tributary streams.
Once complete, the Kennebago Woodlands, Wildlands, and Easements will border a 108,000-acre contiguous block of state and non-profit conservation holdings. “Conserving this large tract of forest will provide connectivity to adjacent conserved lands that benefit our native fish and wildlife species and the local community, and preserve the rich outdoor heritage in the Rangeley Lakes Region for generations,” said Jason Latham, RLHT Conservation Biologist.
The Rangeley Region and its waters are a stronghold to Maine's pristine wild brook trout and salmon fisheries, and are a link to Rangeley's storied past, and an economic driver for the region's economic future. Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife's telemetry project with RLHT and RRGSA will provide insight into seasonal movements and life stages critical in managing these unique fisheries and ensuring angling opportunities for generations to come," said Regional MDIFW Fisheries Biologist Liz Latti.
RLHT has been working with Trout Unlimited (TU) since 2022 to restore instream habitat for brook trout and other aquatic species on tributaries to the Kennebago River. TU assesses suitable sections of streams and determines if the stream could benefit from adding more large wood. In many cases, there is a lack of wood in streams, the result of the logging drives of yesteryear that cleared the lands adjacent to waterways. Strategic wood additions completed by TU sawyers serve many important ecological functions, creating deep scour pools, increasing habitat complexity in the stream, dissipating water velocity during weather events and preventing erosion, adding and retaining crucial nutrients to the stream, and more. Strategic wood additions on other tributaries will resume in 2024.
In 2022, RLHT staff, with the assistance of the USFWS and The Nature Conservancy, identified twelve culverts as barriers to aquatic organism passage. In 2023, RLHT replaced two culverts with open-bottomed bridges engineered to withstand 100-year flood events and last for a century. These two projects reconnected 7.13 miles of critical upstream habitat for native brook trout and other fish and wildlife species. Culvert replacements within the Kennebago watershed will continue in 2024.
RLHT also partnered with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) and the Rangeley Region Guides and Sportsman to establish a telemetry study on brook trout and landlocked salmon in Mooselookmeguntic Lake and the Kennebago drainage. One hundred brook trout and 50 landlocked salmon were radio-tagged, and over 400 floy tags (numbered tags reported by anglers to track growth, catch rates, and fishery health) were deployed by MDIFW. The goal of this study is to gain insight into brook trout and salmon behavior and movement, locations of specific spawning sites, river staging areas, spawn timing, and other seasonal movement patterns important to the management and conservation of Kennebago and Mooselookmeguntic wild trout and salmon populations. “The Rangeley Region and its waters are a stronghold to Maine’s pristine wild brook trout and salmon fisheries, and are a link to Rangeley’s storied past, and an economic driver for the region’s economic future. Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s telemetry project with RLHT and RRGSA will provide insight into seasonal movements and life stages critical in managing these unique fisheries and ensuring angling opportunities for generations to come,” said Regional MDIFW Fisheries Biologist Liz Latti.
Our vision for the million-acre Rangeley Lakes Region is a place of healthy, interconnected ecosystems--a mosaic of conserved lands that delivers long-term, significant benefits--ecological, economic, and social--to our community. We have the opportunity of a lifetime to conserve the lands, waters, and wildlife of this region. We are compelled to act."
“Our vision for the million-acre Rangeley Lakes Region is a place of healthy, interconnected ecosystems–a mosaic of conserved lands that delivers long-term, significant benefits–ecological, economic, and social–to our community. We have the opportunity of a lifetime to conserve the lands, waters, and wildlife of this region. We are compelled to act,” stated David Miller, Executive Director of RLHT.
RLHT plans to manage the land for its significant fish and wildlife habitat, public recreation, and as a working forest. In 2022, with the help of Pete McKinley of The Wilderness Society, we designed and inaugurated a breeding bird survey on the property. The Rangeley region is a critical breeding ground for both boreal specialists, e.g, boreal chickadee, and migratory neo-tropical songbirds, such as the Canada Warbler, one of the “focal species” for our forest management plan.
By acquiring these lands, RLHT has secured public access for recreation and outdoor activities such as hiking, birding, fishing, canoeing, kayaking, hunting, snowmobiling, and trapping.
A celebration is planned in late spring 2024 to celebrate the Headwaters Acquisition.