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FOA Donates Community Forest and Trail to Town of Trenton

By Stephanie Clement
Spring 2014 Friends of Acadia Journal

Rhodora in full bloom is just one of the natural wonders hidden in the Trenton Community Forest.

Rhodora in full bloom is just one of the natural wonders hidden in the Trenton Community Forest.

Trenton is an important gateway community to Acadia National Park. On average, more than thirteen thousand vehicles travel across the Trenton Bridge heading to and from Mount Desert Island (MDI) each day. Trenton businesses provide essential services to residents and visitors, and the Bar Harbor/Hancock County Airport is a transportation hub with scenic flights, services for private aircraft, and year-round commercial air service to Boston.

Almost a decade ago, a 369-acre property on the west side of Route 3 called “Crippens Creek” was identified for an intermodal transit facility, Island Explorer maintenance center, and welcome center for Acadia and the local communities. FOA has spent the years since working with partners, including the National Park Service, the Maine Department of Transportation, and others to develop the Acadia Gateway Center with the goal of reducing automobile traffic by offering day visitors a place to leave their cars, gather information, buy park entry passes, and ride the fare-free Island Explorer to the park or other MDI destinations.

Friends of Acadia purchased the property in 2007 then sold 152 acres adjacent to Route 3 to MDOT for the Gateway Center facilities. The next five years saw the development of phase 1 of the project on that land, including the maintenance center and commuter parking area, which were inaugurated in May 2012.

At the same time, Friends of Acadia began working with a group of Trenton residents to build a walking trail on the remaining 217 acres. The group scouted routes, developed trail use guidelines, secured permits, raised money, installed interpretive signs, and constructed a 1.8-mile loop trail. The trail was inaugurated on National Trails Day last year and provides a wonderful opportunity to learn about Trenton’s history, view wildlife, and walk through diverse woodlands to an ecologically significant heath that runs through Trenton’s interior.

However, Friends of Acadia did not want to own a large property in Trenton for the long term. FOA began exploring whether the Town of Trenton would be interested in accepting those 217 acres as a donation, and also began looking for a conservation partner who would collaborate to conserve the property’s valuable natural features. The portion of the Gateway Center property where the Trenton Community Trail originates had already been preserved through wetland mitigation covenants managed by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, and FOA wanted to ensure that the “back two hundred” would also not be developed.

In December 2013 Friends of Acadia donated a conservation easement and stewardship fund to Maine Coast Heritage Trust, already an established partner on such projects as the Acadia Land Legacy and Schoodic Woods. The terms of the conservation easement prevent future development (except for trails and associated facilities), but allow for sustainably managed forestry activities and recreation including hunting and motorized recreational uses. Finally, at a Trenton selectboard meeting on December 10th, FOA donated the property to the Town of Trenton. Trenton’s recreation committee will manage the Trenton Community Trail with assistance from Friends of Acadia as needed. The property will be open for public use in perpetuity, and has been called the “Trenton Community Forest.”

Trenton selectman Susan Starr worked with FOA to facilitate the gift. She commented that for her, “the land behind the Acadia Gateway Center, complete with lovely nature trail, represents something necessary to a healthy community, yet something that Trenton did not have. It is a site open to the public—residents and visitors—which is not designed for a specific municipal purpose. It can be what the user wants it to be; a place for recreation, for exploration, or even for meditation. During all four seasons, it will bring enjoyment to all ages and to any number of people at one time. It is a luxury and a necessity. For a town to have a piece of property for the purpose of leisure is truly a step toward a stronger community. This is a wonderful gift for Trenton.”

Friends of Acadia and partners are still working to secure the approximately $10 million needed to complete construction of the welcome center, parking areas, and transit plaza at the Acadia Gateway Center. Once these buildings are constructed, the Acadia Gateway Center will serve as a onestop location for information, recreation, and transportation services. Friends of Acadia thanks the Town of Trenton for being a partner in this project and hopes that town residents and visitors enjoy the Community Forest and Trail for many years ahead.

STEPHANIE CLEMENT is the conservation director at Friends of Acadia.