GRAND LAKE STREAM, Maine — With the purchase of a conservation easement on more than 21,000 acres, the state has helped preserve a large swath of woodland and the area’s tourist economy, officials announced Tuesday.

The land, 21,870 acres in and adjacent to the plantation of Grand Lake Stream, is east of West Grand Lake and northwest of Big Lake. It is the “ last big piece” of a decade-long effort by local and state officials, and by Downeast Lakes Land Trust, to protect more than 350,000 acres of undeveloped woods enveloping the lakes of northern Washington County, according to Mark Berry executive director of the land trust.

The land, owned by Lyme Timber Co. of Hanover, N.H., abuts 33,708 acres already owned by the land trust and includes 17 miles of shoreline on West Grand, Big and Lower Oxbrook lakes. It includes frontage on Big Musquash Stream and conserves a quarter-mile section of the west side of Grand Lake Stream above Big Falls, according to a prepared statement about the completed easement.

“Grand Lake Stream has a rich heritage as a destination for outdoor recreation,” Berry said in the release. “By permanently conserving these lands, and guaranteeing they will always be open to the public for recreation, we’re protecting that heritage and a way of life for future generations.”

Berry said there are 12 camps in the Grand Lake Stream area that cater to tourists who come to enjoy the outdoors. So important is tourism to the area’s economy, he added, that the residents of Grand Lake Stream cast a unanimous vote in 2008 to contribute $40,000 toward completing the easement deal.

Berry said the land trust has a three-year option to buy the land outright from Lyme Timber Co.

The New Hampshire company’s current portfolio includes 475,000 acres in the Northeast, Midwest and South, of which more than 36,000 acres are in Maine. It has consulted on projects that have conserved more than 785,000 acres in Maine and last year, it purchased 3,200 acres next to Acadia National Park on the Schoodic Peninsula.

Gov. Paul LePage said in a prepared statement that the easement at Grand Lake Stream will help protect the state’s natural resources, which he called the “backbone” of Maine’s economy.

“The Grand Lake Stream area has outstanding fisheries, wildlife and scenic resources that make it an attraction for recreationists from around the world while supporting the highest concentration of registered Maine guides in the state,” LePage said. “The historic working forests that have safeguarded these natural assets are now assured for the future.”

Walt Whitcomb, commissioner of the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, added that the easement preserves public access rights to the land.

“These lands support traditional uses, including hunting and fishing, and the easement also guarantees continuation of the primary [all-terrain vehicle] and snowmobile trails that cross the property,” Whitcomb wrote in the release.

The U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Legacy Program selected this project as its top nationwide conservation priority in 2011, according to officials. That same year, it was given a top rating among proposals being considered for funding in the state Land for Maine’s Future program.

The state program, which has conserved more than 445,000 acres in Maine since 1987, could end up facing budget shortfalls for other projects to which it has pledged money, however. The LMF board has said it will provide about $6.95 million to help land trusts and other partners close deals to conserve 20 other parcels statewide, but it only has $4.66 million on hand.

In 2010, voters statewide approved $7 million in bonds to go toward the LMF program, but LePage has said he doesn’t plan to sell the bonds until 2014.

LePage has said he intends to sell the bonds within the required five-year time frame, but he doesn’t plan to issue more until he’s able to rein in state spending.

BDN reporter Matthew Stone contributed to this story. Follow BDN reporter Bill Trotter on Twitter at @billtrotter.

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....