A boat heads into shore near Rideout’s Lodge & Cabins in Weston on Wednesday, June 22, 2016. A large crowd of citizens who occupy East Grand Lake for both pleasure and profit during the summer have expressed frustration at enhanced enforcement of reporting requirements for boaters that they bemoaned as both an annoyance and detrimental to business. Credit: Jen Lynds

Almost 12,000 acres of forest and more than 21 miles of shoreline in Washington County on and around East Grand Lake is now preserved after more than 10 years of work by The Conservation Fund.

The East Grand Watershed Initiative guarantees access for hunting, fishing, snowmobiling, guiding and other outdoor activities along Maine’s eastern border with Canada. The land, which is privately owned, includes 16 miles of shorefront on East Grand Lake.

The first phase of the plan, completed in 2016, focused on the protection of 5,992 acres of deer wintering habitat at Monument Brook and 1,493 acres of working forestland in Orient. The second and final phase protected 4,327 acres of forested lakeshore and wildlife habitat in Weston.

The $4 million project was completed by The Conservation Fund, which purchased the shoreline and timberlands from Wagner Forest Management and worked with the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands to secure conservation easements while transferring other lands to the bureau, which will oversee the stewardship of the acreage.

The Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands activated funding from the Land for Maine’s Future program and The Conservation Fund accessed the help of the U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Legacy Program to help make the effort a reality.

The East Grand Watershed Initiative was the largest of five Land for Maine’s Future conservation projects announced by Gov. Janet Mills in January 2022. The four other initiatives are the Buck’s Ledge Community Forest, Kennebago Headwaters, Kennebec Highlands and the Caribou Stream Deer Wintering Area.

The effort was finalized last month when the last 4,327 acres of shoreline were protected with a conservation easement on East Grand, Deering/Longfellow, Bracket and Sucker lakes.

“The community input and support that emerged for this initiative was key to creating outstanding outcomes for the land and this region — and it’s what powered this collective effort to completion,” said Tom Duffus, vice president and Northeast representative for The Conservation Fund.

The fund worked closely with the towns of Weston and Orient, which border a large amount of the conserved land. To help create economic opportunities that would benefit youth, health and well-being, five adjacent acres were donated by The Conservation Fund to Weston for a public park on East Grand Lake with the assistance of Judy and Elbridge Cleaves of Weston.

“This project is a great example of collaboration between the town of Weston, The Conservation Fund and numerous interested parties to achieve a balance between conservation and the economic interest of the area,” said Dwayne Young, administrative assistant to the selectboard of Weston. “The project has been in the works for a long time, but well worth the time invested.”

To complete the project, The Conservation Fund partnered with the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands, which used money from the Land for Maine’s Future Program, private grants provided by The Conservation Fund and the U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Legacy Program. The latter is funded through the Land and Water Conservation Fund which was established by Congress in 1964 to safeguard natural areas, water resources and cultural heritage and provide recreation opportunities.

“The Bureau of Parks and Lands is thrilled to be part of this collaborative effort to conserve a spectacular piece of land and shoreline,” said Andy Cutko, the bureau’s director.

For many years, the area in and around the East Grand Watershed Initiative has been home to sporting camps and guide services featuring landlocked salmon, trout and bass fisheries.

Pete Warner

Pete graduated from Bangor High School in 1980 and earned a B.S. in Journalism (Advertising) from the University of Maine in 1986. He grew up fishing at his family's camp on Sebago Lake but didn't take...