Schmid board approved for matching Project Canopy Grant

Mon, 06/14/2021 - 1:00pm

A Maine Forest Service grant is helping the 766-acre Charles and Constance Schmid Land Preserve in Edgecomb plan for the future. The town has owned and managed the preserve since 1979. The seven-person Schmid Advisory Board collaborated with town officials earlier this year in securing a matching $7,200 Project Canopy Grant. Board members approached selectmen last winter for help with the required $3,600 match.

The preserve hasn’t generated or received much revenue over the years, according to board chair Lisa McSwain; it’s been many decades since the preserve’s forests have been harvested; the town provides $2,200 annually for maintenance and care of the preserve. Last winter, board members met with the selectboard who agreed to provide the grant match funding by using money from the legal line item account. The selectmen serve as trustees of the preserve as outlined in the deeds of trust written when the Schmidts donated the land. This will be the preserve’s first forest management plan update since the first plan was written in 1999. This is McSwain’s first year as board chairperson. The board was in transition last year when longtime chair Bob Leone, who served 20 years, retired. He was responsible for developing many of the preserve’s trails and adding about 90 acres to the preserve through grants, donations and funding from Land for Maine’s Future.

MidCoast Forestry of Warren developed the first plan 20 years after Charles and Constance Schmid donated the property. Midcoast Forestry’s Barrie Brusila authored the original plan. She will begin work on an updated version in July. “The first one cost about $15,000 so this one is a sorely needed update of the original plan,” McSwain said. “We are not necessarily looking to harvest some of the forest. It’s more to take stock of what we have and help us determine what direction the management of the forest should go in to maintain the health of the forest based on its current use as a nature preserve and wildlife habitat.”

Years ago, before the first plan was written and before the advisory board was formed, the town allowed some timber harvesting to provide some revenue. A dispute resulted in cutting on a neighboring property, and there has been no timber harvesting since. The dispute resulted in both the original management plan and an advisory board. The revised management plan will review the presence of invasive plants and insects. It will update the timber, animal and plant inventories. “Twenty years has been way too long to go without an up to date management plan. The forester will tailor a plan to maintain it as a nature preserve. This will help us plan and move forward,” McSwain said.

Since the property doesn’t generate revenue through either property taxes or forestry, the board needs to make do on a small annual municipal budget and volunteer work. For $2,200, the board and a small army of volunteers maintain the behemoth property which McSwain describes as the “largest single contiguous land tract in the Midcoast.” The preserve has 15 miles of walking and mountain biking trails which are used year round. Typically, volunteers embark on two days of comprehensive maintenance per year with general maintenance done throughout the year by one or two people if a task is needed. The big work days occur in the spring, and another in the fall. Volunteer labor builds bridges, clear trails, removes fallen trees and marks trails. “We hire a local resident to mow the fields once a year. He gives us a huge discount which is a big help, but other than that, all the labor is from volunteers who love and use the preserve,” she said.

David Nutt has served five years on the board. He reported volunteers provided 56 man-hours last spring in labor on one work day alone. The recent coronavirus also provided an unexpected boost to maintaining the preserve. “People were looking for things to do, and the pandemic provided people time to volunteer for us,” McSwain said. In recent years, the board has created several new mountain biking trails. “It’s something that’s drawing more people to the preserve,” Nutt said. “And, I think it will continue to benefit the local economy by giving tourists another reason to visit, filling our local inns and restaurants,” he said.

McSwain is an avid biker and enjoys having a place to take a scenic mountain bike ride without worrying about getting hit by vehicles. She also said the preserve’s history provides several unique sites. Charles Schmid was a sawyer and bought the property to obtain trees for his mills. Previous to Schmid, the giant land tract was farmland and home to an agrarian society. But the land wasn’t fertile, and farmers struggled to make a living. Evidence of poor farming conditions remains today with the name of a 200-foot hill. “It’s called Mount Hunger because farmers could not really make it,” McSwain said. It is also the location of several old mica mines, a small industry in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

But for hikers and bikers, evidence of the history remains through visions of rock walls, old wells, ada stock pen, among other sites. The preserve is also an excellent location for winter activities. McSwain said it’s great for cross country skiing and snow shoeing. One activity not permitted regardless of season is driving motorized vehicles.

As for the preserve’s future, McSwain foresees establishing an endowment. The board would like to engage Maine Community Foundation for management of the endowment once it is established. “It would make us less reliant on the town and we wouldn’t struggle with not knowing where to find additional financial resources,” she said.

Parking is a major challenge. As the preserve grows in popularity, board members are concerned about parking in the preserve’s three relatively small locations. Access points are located on the Middle, McKay and Old County roads. McSwain lives on Old County Road and the access point is on a discontinued section. “It’s already too small and more traffic will only beat up the dirt road whose residents are responsible for road maintenance. I’m hoping the town will take back the road,” she said.

The Schmid Advisory Board will receive the grant once the maintenance plan is completed. McSwain expects completion this winter.