An aerial view of Vining Lake, a 26-acre, undeveloped lake in Washington County that was recently conserved by a 406-acre land acquisition made by the Downeast Coastal Conservancy. Credit: Courtesy of Jon Southern | Courtesy of Jon Southern

Downeast Coastal Conservancy recently acquired more than 400 acres surrounding Vining Lake, a body of water that has long been a fishing and paddling destination for residents of Washington County.

The land trust has designated the new property as Vining Lake Community Preserve, and will immediately begin work on improving public access for fishing, paddling, hunting, hiking and other low-impact recreational activities.

“It’s now completely protected,” said Downeast Coastal Conservancy Executive Director Jon Southern.

The 26-acre Vining Lake, located approximately 21 miles north of Machias in the town of Cooper and Cathance Township, is completely undeveloped, without any buildings or other structures along its shores. The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife consider the lake to be among the top 12 brook trout habitats in New England.

“One of the things that stood out to us is it’s a pretty popular destination for winter ice fishing, particularly for young families,” Southern said. “This winter, when we were out there on several occasions, it was just great to see kids out there fishing with their families. To be able to provide guaranteed public access to this winter recreational resource is quite a gift.”

The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife has annually stocked the lake with brook trout since at least 1996.

In addition, the lake and its outlet stream and wetland are part of the East Machias River watershed, one of the few remaining Atlantic salmon rivers in the United States. And the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service has described the forest habitat of the Vining Lake area as being of high value for rare and declining species of birds and fish.

“Part of why we chose to designate it as a community preserve is because the community felt so passionately about it,” Southern said. “Over the years, the property has been threatened several times with development, forestry and quarrying. This finally ensures it’s conserved, not only for current generations, but future generations.”

This spring and summer, Downeast Coastal Conservancy will begin improving access to the preserve, extending trails and making other improvements to enhance public access, such as add signage, erect informational kiosks and improve the parking area.

“There are some trails there right now,” Southern said. “We plan to enhance those and we also plan to put in several miles of trails over the coming year.”

The boat launch on the property will be a hand-carry launch (not big enough for vehicles to back up to) with a removable dock for kayaks and canoes to launch from, Southern said.

“It’s not really the type of lake you’d use a powerboat in, which makes it special in its own right,” he said.

In addition, the land trust plans to work with local schools to devise ways that classrooms can use the preserve as a nature studies site. The property features many different habitats, which offer different educational opportunities, Southern said.

“A big element of this project is going to be education,” Southern said. “We intend to develop programs working with schools and youth groups to cover some of the STEM education requirements while getting [kids] out there, hands on, in the field. This property is just perfect for that.”

The land trust acquired the land from Jonathan and Melinda Jaques, residents of the nearby town of Dennysville. The couple purchased the land in multiple parcels over several years with the intentions of keeping it undeveloped and open to public recreation.

“They felt it was such a special place it should be protected,” Southern said. “They saw what it meant to the community.”

The Jaques family sold the property to Downeast Coastal Conservancy at a bargain price of $125,000, which was less than a quarter of what they initially purchased it for. Their goal was for the lake and surrounding land to remain conserved in perpetuity.

“It was only made possible by their incredibly generous gift,” Southern said.

Since 1988, Downeast Coastal Conservancy has protected more than 6,300 acres in coastal Washington County. The land trust currently owns and stewards 42 conservation nature preserves, all of which are open to the public for fishing, hunting and other low impact recreational activities.

The organization calculated the acquisition cost of the Vining Lake property to be $400,000. In addition to the land purchase price of $125,000, this budget includes $165,000 for long-term stewardship, $50,000 for initial access and land improvements, $50,000 for educational outreach and $10,000 for legal fees and appraisal costs.

This fundraising goal was met before Downeast Coastal Conservancy purchased the property. The funds were donated by officers of the Downeast Coastal Conservancy Board of Directors and a small number of private donors. Funding was also provided by The Davis Foundation and the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund, a state fund with a board that awards grants for the conservation of wildlife and open spaces with proceeds from the sale of instant scratch lottery tickets.

“We had some very generous donors who’ve come forward in record time to make it possible,” Southern said. “It’s just a testament to the passion of people who come out to the property and fall in love with it immediately.”

Aislinn Sarnacki is a Maine outdoors writer and the author of three Maine hiking guidebooks including “Family Friendly Hikes in Maine.” Find her on Twitter and Facebook @1minhikegirl. You can also...