The Midcoast Conservancy is a new name in Maine conservation, and with its formation legally official at the start of this month, an exciting model for preserving land and water in a large swath of the coastal region that bears its name gets started on an old mission with a fresh outlook.
The new organization is the result of a merger between four local conservation groups – the Damariscotta Lake Watershed Association, Hidden Valley Nature Center, Sheepscot Valley Conservation Association and Sheepscot Wellspring Land Alliance – a process that took two years of planning and collaboration.
Stretching across Lincoln and Waldo counties, the Midcoast Conservancy encompasses 6,300 acres of conservation lands in an area ranging from the headwaters of the Sheepscot River in Freedom south to Georgetown and the river’s mouth at Sheepscot Bay. Home to 60 miles of publicly accessible trails, plus a host of lakes, rivers and estuaries, there’s more than enough to explore here for outdoor enthusiasts of many and varied interests.
“The Midcoast has one of the lowest percentages of protected land of any region in Maine, about 5 percent, so the need is tremendous,” said the Midcoast Conservancy’s executive director, Jody Jones, who served in the same capacity at the Damariscotta Lake Watershed Association. “Our four organizations were all currently in a strong position, so it was a good time to forge this alliance and do even more conservation as one entity.”
The impetus for combining resources started around food, Jones said in a recent interview. At casual lunches between the small staffs of each organization, eight people total, the group shared struggles, and successes and discussed how they could support each other.
“That’s when we started thinking about what it all would look like as one, about the efficiencies that could be gained, the increased effectiveness of working together,” Jones said. “We finally decided to give it a try, then hired a facilitator, accountant and attorney, and got to work making it happen.”
After approval by the vote of each organization’s board of directors, the staff of the newly combined conservancy started from scratch to build a new direction to guide them in their important work that covers about two dozen towns.
“We retained all eight of the existing staffers in the new organization,” noted Jones, “but we were able to place people where their professional strengths lie. The result is better job focus, people are happier, morale is high.”
The Midcoast Conservancy staff has a combined 125 years of conservation experience, with professional expertise in forestry and land management, conservation planning, water quality monitoring and invasive species management.
The merger effectively eliminates the arbitrary boundaries between the old organizations, enables the group to pursue joint fundraising and enhanced education and outreach programs, and creates opportunities for connecting some of the existing preserves.
“We’re giddy with excitement,” said Jones, “but we have a lot to do as we work to further protect land and water in and around the Sheepscot River valley and help maintain a healthy environment for people and businesses in this region of the Midcoast.”
Hikers can share the excitement in the former service area of Sheepscot Wellspring Land Alliance in Montville, Knox, Liberty and Freedom, where 19 miles of interconnected trails in and around Whitten Hill, Bog Brook, Goose Ridge and Haystack Mountain link to a nearby system of 11 miles of paths on Frye and Hogback mountains.
At the 1,000-acre Hidden Valley Nature Center in Jefferson, go far afield into the backcountry on 30 miles of trails, which include overnight options at two cabins, a yurt and two tent sites on Little Dyer Pond.
Seven preserves in the former Sheepscot Valley Conservation Association area offer miles of great hiking, while the West Branch Preserve in Jefferson and Somerville – a property of the old Damariscotta Lake Watershed Association – features seven miles of trails and a remote lean-to. For more information, visit www.midcoastconservancy.org or call 389-5150.