Hikers and those interested in seeing the fall colors from Ragged Mountain in Camden use the antiquated ski lift installed in 1975 at the Camden Snow Bowl in this Oct. 27, 2013, file photo. Credit: Kevin Bennett

ROCKPORT, Maine — Water and recreation have been at the heart of the Coastal Mountains Land Trust’s ambitious 1,500-acre conservation project in the Rockport and Hope area.

After completing the purchase of a conservation easement on 786 acres owned by the Maine Water Company around Mirror Lake last week, the organization reached a milestone in not only conserving the area around Ragged Mountain for public use, but also in protecting the water supply for about 20,000 people.

Since discussions began more than 10 years ago between the land trust and Maine Water Company, “there was a strong commitment to the community, to see [the land] remain as open space and available for water quality,” Coastal Mountains Land Trust executive director Ian Stewart said Thursday.

The land trust officially kicked off its 1,500-acre “Round the Mountain” conservation project two years ago, with a $4.2 million fundraising goal and plans to build a 9-mile, multi-use trail around Ragged Mountain, which abuts Mirror Lake and serves as home to the Camden Snow Bowl.

Combined with an existing conservation easement, securing the latest easement means that nearly all of the 1,000-acre Mirror Lake Watershed will remain in perpetuity as undeveloped land. The easement also allows the land trust to begin work on the first 5.5 miles of the Round the Mountain trail this year through the fall of 2019, Stewart said.

For the past 130 years, Mirror Lake has been the water source for nearby communities, Maine Water Company president Richard Knowlton said. Today, it provides water for about 20,000 customers in Rockport, Camden, Rockland and Thomaston, as well as parts of Owls Head and Warren. Neighboring Grassy Pond serves as the backup water source for the area.

“The conservation easement does what you expect it to do, which prohibits development,” Knowlton said. “But unique in the language, it recognizes the importance and the continued need for these communities to rely on these two ponds for drinkings water, forever.”

The Maine Public Utilities Commission approved the transaction, Knowlton said, adding that proceeds from the purchase of the conservation easement will be invested back into the water system’s infrastructure. Beginning next year, customers served by Mirror Lake will receive rebate credits on their water bills, totaling about $400,000 throughout the customer base.

To complete the conservation project around the watersheds, the Coastal Mountains Land Trust hopes to secure a 498-acre easement around Grassy Pond next year.

To purchase the final easement and to finish the Round the Mountain Trail by 2020, the Coastal Mountain Land Trust needs to raise an additional $1 million.

Considering the first donation for the Round the Mountain project was $8 in dimes from a local girl, Stewart said he’s happy with the amount of progress they’ve made on the project in two years.

Kurt Klebe of the Maine Coast Heritage Trust said the Round the Mountain project is the largest conservation project on Maine’s coast between Portland and the Penobscot River. Maine Coast Heritage Trust, a land trust focusing on conserving properties along Maine’s coast, has partnered with the Coastal Mountains Land Trust on this project and several others in the area.

Klebe said that with such a large parcel of land being conserved, it protects habitat for native species to roam undisturbed, while also providing a wide range of space for humans to enjoy.

“This is a project of statewide significance,” Klebe said.

The land trust has contracted with Maine-based OBP Trailworks LLC to complete the first 5.5-mile stretch of the Round the Mountain trail, which will run between the Camden Snow Bowl and a new trailhead along the southern side of Ragged Mountain. The trail will be designed for nonmotorized recreational use, offering a space for hiking, biking and snowshoeing.

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