Developing Howard Hill Park in Augusta was a long public-private hike

By Maureen Milliken

Those who attended the dedication of Augusta's Howard Hill Historical Park Thursday hiked through woods to get there, but it was a small journey compared to the years-long effort to establish the city park.

A partnership among the Kennebec Land Trust, the city of Augusta, and the Hallowell Conservation Commission, and with a boost from Kennebec Savings Bank, the project at the top of the hill near the State House was more than a decade in the making. And that was just the latest attempt.

Those involved gathered Thursday on an overlook offering a fall foliage-painted vista of the capital city and parts east, with the State House gleaming in the late afternoon sun below.

"There were a lot of times we didn't think we were going to make it," said Howard Lake, director of the Kennebec Land Trust. “At times, we thought maybe we wouldn’t be able to raise the money, and we had already spent a lot of money on it.

"But we persevered, and here we are.”

As Lake stood with the backdrop of the eastern vista behind him, he noted it was a special place. Real estate strategy holds that "it's location location location that matters," he said. "But people matter more," and the city park, which is held in trust by the KLT, wouldn't have happened with the persistence of those involved.

Preservation of the 164-acre hill between Augusta and Hallowell was necessary, speakers at the event said. It preserves green space and the wildlife in it and provides the area with a place to hike, snowshoe and enjoy nature, as well as a tree-laden area in the city to help mitigate climate change.

The process itself was also valuable, said Judy Camuso, commissioner of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. It sets the stage for partnerships between the state, conservation groups and other stakeholders, groups have different goals and focuses, but can work together toward one end, she said.

"People will protect what they care about," she said.

Bumpy trail

The Kennebec Land Trust and the city of Augusta began in 2009 to pursue conservation options for the site that was once part of 500 acres owned by the Gannett family, who published several magazines as well as the Portland Press Herald, Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel.

A large portion of the hill was a Maine game preserve from 1930 to 1969, but the western area, near the end of Capitol Street, was subdivided for homes in the late 1960s. In the 1970s, the Maine Parks and Recreation Commission attempted to buy 200 acres, but wasn't successful.

When the effort to turn the site into a conservation area began anew in 2009, nearly $1 million was pledged to the Kennebec Land Trust over the following years.

Some $337,000 of that was to be from the state Land for Maine's Future, but Gov. Paul LePage wouldn't release the $12 million voters had approved in 2010 and 2012 for 30 conservation projects, including Howard Hill. The $337,500 for the project was then cut to $163,500 by the state in 2016.

With a deadline on the purchase, the trust bought the land for $975,000 in 2015 with help from a bridge loan from Kennebec Savings Bank that closed the funding gap the state money holdup caused.

The land trust deeded the site to the city in 2017 and holds the conservation easement on it.

Andrew Silsby, president and CEO of Kennebec Savings Bank, at Thursday's Howard Hill Historical Park Dedication. The bank provided a bridge loan to Kennebec Land Trust to help complete the project.

'We got it done'

Kennebec Savings Bank President and CEO Andrew Silsby told those gathered Thursday that the bank "jumped on the opportunity" to help with the project.

He said when government, nonprofits and businesses work together on layering funding to protect the state's land "citizens win."

Silsby, an Augusta native, said his father, David Silsby, was a longtime advocate of preserving the land, and was always afraid development would mar it.

"He really felt strong that a state known for forestry and land should have a backdrop to its state house that's green" and protected from development. David Silsby was state revisor of statutes, as well as director of legislative research and director of the state house and Capitol Park commission, among other roles.

He directed his final remark to his father, who wasn't at the dedication but had had a long conversation with Silsby about the history of the site that morning, Silsby said.

"It didn't happen the way you thought it would happen, but we got it done," Silsby said.

'Pretty incredible for a little city'

The land for centuries was part of the Wabanaki Kennebec area hunting and fishing grounds, and is dotted with granite outcroppings, streams, ponds, a variety of trees and dozens of wildlife species. It was acquired in the late 1700s by Capt. James Howard, Augusta's founder.

William Howard Gannett, a Maine legislator, bought the land in the 1890s, and named it Ganneston Park. He developed carriage trails, some of which are overgrown but still visible,and public trails and gardens. The family built a camp at the top of the hill, and also built a large treehouse at the site of the overlook where Thursday's ceremony took place.

The new park connects to the Effie Berry Conservation Area in Hallowell, eight acres donated to the city of Hallowell by Mastway Development, owners of the under-development Stevens School campus.

Augusta Mayor David Rollins said Thursday the area is "a special place, but it's more special for the city of Augusta."

"When you add up all the things we have, it's pretty incredible for a little city," he said. The added green space is also a testament to the city's commitment to the environment.

City Manager Bill Bridgeo echoed that, and, indicating the State House below and the forested land stretching out beyond, said, "When you look out here it epitomizes who we are and what we're about."

About Howard Hill Historical Park

Howard Hill, the wooded backdrop to the Maine State House, is a large and diverse natural area on the west side of Augusta. Its 164 acres includes a cascading stream, steep ravines, large boulders, an expansive ridgeline with sheer cliffs, and diverse wildlife habitat. The property is crisscrossed by an informal network of old carriage roads and woods roads that provide expansive views over the State House and the Kennebec River valley.

It's now a city park, and is open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m for nature observation, hiking and snow shoeing. Bow hunting is allowed in season with permission from the city of Augusta. No motorized vehicles are allowed, and dogs must be on a leash, and owners must pick up after them.

There are no bathrooms in the park, but the city plans an entrance with facilities and and parking via a driveway at the end of Ganneston Drive in the future.

The park is accessed through the Effie L. Berry Conservation Area trailhead in Hallowell, which provides a 0.6-mile walk on uneven terrain to the overlook. Parking is available at Stevens School Commons at the end of Coos Lane. There is also access on Sewall Street in Augusta directly opposite Brooklawn Avenue, which leads to a 0.8 mile walk, which has a steep uphill section, to the overlook. Parking is available at the State House. To access from Ganneston Drive, go to the end of Ganneston Drie and park in the street. The trailhead leads to a 0.4 mile walk to the overlook over gentle terrain.

Howard Hill’s trails, views dedicated to connecting people with nature in Augusta


AUGUSTA — When it comes to connecting people to wildlife, Howard Hill Historical Park has it all, the state’s commissioner of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife said Thursday at the 164-acre site’s dedication.

With fall’s array of multicolored leaves on display for miles behind her, Commissioner Judy Camuso said Howard Hill’s prominence and easy access for people, combined with its spectacular and diverse habitat for wildlife, make it the perfect spot for people to make and share connections to nature, and instill those connections in future generations.

“An oasis for both people and wildlife, right here in the heart of our state capital,” Camuso said from an overlook with expansive views of Augusta and beyond, to a few dozen attendees at the park’s dedication Thursday. “From a wildlife perspective, Howard Hill has it all. With softwoods and hardwoods, it provides a home or stopping off point for a whole host of wildlife species.

“The key for all of Maine’s diverse wildlife will be protecting a wide range of habitats and in providing connectivity between those habitats. This dedication is an example of ensuring that not only does Maine’s wildlife have a home, but the people of Maine and those that visit have a place to enjoy Maine’s wildlife. People will protect what they care about.”

The city of Augusta was given the wooded hilltop site, which provides a scenic backdrop to the State House, by Kennebec Land Trust in 2017, after the trust, using a mix of privately raised and public, but no city of Augusta, funds to purchase the land for about $925,000 from local lawyer Sumner Lipman.

A conservation easement the trust attached to the property before turning it over to the city bans development on the site, other than recreational trials and related amenities.

Howard Lake, of Readfield, a member of the land trust’s board of directors, thanked the numerous volunteers who have cut trails on the property and donors who contributed funds for its purchase. He reminded them that at times it looked like it would not happen.

The land trust initially was expected to use $337,500 in Land for Maine’s Future money to help pay for the purchase. However, Land for Maine’s Future funding for the $1.2 million project was slashed from the previously promised $337,500 to $163,500 in 2016.

Five of six members of the Land for Maine’s Future board, all of whom were either appointed by former Gov. Paul LePage or worked for him, voted to reduce the state’s contribution to the project, expressing concerns about the accuracy of the roughly $1 million appraisal of the property done for the land trust. The property was assessed by the city, for tax purposes, at just $171,000.

Land trust officials have defended what they pay for such properties, stating they have the properties professionally appraised, based upon their “highest and best use,” or what their value would be if they were to be developed.

The trust took out a loan to close the funding gap so the project could proceed.

“We had our challenges, there were times it looked pretty bleak,” Lake said. “At times, we thought maybe we wouldn’t be able to raise the money, and we had already spent a lot of money on it. But we persevered, and here we are.”

The $337,500 loan from Kennebec Savings Bank helped the land trust move ahead with the project before the trust had raised the entire $1.2 million needed for the project.

Andrew Silsby, president of KSB, said his father, David Silsby, worked for the state Legislature for 27 years and, because of his belief that a state known for its forests and land should have a forested backdrop to its state capital, fought for years to get the state to preserve the same land, but could not convince state leaders to fund it.

Andrew Silsby said he had lunch Thursday with his dad, who showed him old photographs of the site and gave him a history lesson.

The property is spread between a point just south of Capitol Street to the Hallowell line at the former Stevens School complex. It is accessible from spots off Sewall Street, at the end of Ganneston Drive in Augusta and from a trailhead at Stevens Commons in Hallowell.

Mayor David Rollins, who lives near the Ganneston Drive entrance to the park, said the park is one more example of Augusta’s many attractions that make Augusta the best small city in New England. He also said its another example of Augusta preserving the environment and its growing network of recreational trails, a network he hopes will continue to grow.

“Let’s evolve this a little more every year, and add more trails, Ansley is going to live out here,” Rollins joked, referencing Ansley Sawyer, a member of the Augusta Conservation Commission who has served as a steward of Howard Hill and put extensive time into cutting trails in the park.

The property once was owned by William Howard Gannett, who in the 1890s bought some 450 acres including Howard Hill — where he created Ganneston Park.

The park included gardens, ponds, carriage paths and trails he opened to the public so they could enjoy the natural setting as his family did in their log cabin lodge on the site, Camp Comfort, so named because Gannett was publisher of Comfort Magazine, the first American periodical to reach a circulation of more than 1 million.

The Gannetts had a large, cliffside treehouse on the property, believed to be on or near the site where a scenic overlook with expansive views is now located.

KLT to hold annual meeting where interns will present their experiences

By Abigail AustinKennebec Journal

Jonah Raether and Joe Hazelton stood out to Kennebec Land Trust Executive Director Theresa Kerchner for their desire to mitigate climate change. 

“They are inspiring,” she said. “It is hopefully a sign that the next generation is focusing on the future.”

As interns building and maintaining trails, directing volunteer stewards and writing grant applications, Raether kept a keen eye on the connection between human health and the environment, while Hazelton helped community members discover good forest management. 

They will present their research projects during KLT’s annual meeting this weekend in Wayne. 

Raether is from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and is a graduate student at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, studying health science and community health.

His research project studied the relation between environmental connection and its impact on human health. 

“I knew that I did not just want to work on building trails,” said Raether. “I wanted to get to know the people living here — I came in with that goal.” 

Through his research project, he created a booklet of interviews sharing the stories of local connections to nature which will be shared both at the meeting and online. 

He said its a narrative of what a “community connected to the outdoors looks like.”

One story that touched him was told by Pete and Marjorie Lovejoy of Wayne. Their family had been visiting a patch of showy lady slippers, an endangered orchid. 

“Even though it’s a small sample size,” he said, “people in Maine (are passionate) about conservation and climate change mitigation. 

“And being outside is really important to folks,” Raether said.

The booklet, titled, “Natural Assets and Resilient Communities — People and the Land: A Collection of Essays,” will be shared at the meeting and online. 

Hazelton is from Arlington, Massachusetts, and will soon graduate from the University of Michigan’s environmental science program. 

His research project looked at forest management of Surry Hill Community Forest, KLT’s newest property in Fayette, which will be managed to mitigate climate change by carbon sequestration, the process by which trees and other plants pull oxygen out of the air through photosynthesis and stored as carbon.

“You would think that by cutting down trees, you are releasing carbon and promoting climate change,” Hazelton said. “The opposite is true if you harvest timber correctly.”

He created a brochure and designed a web page that explains how timber management is helpful with limiting carbon emissions and pulling carbon dioxide out of the air.  

Hazelton’s brochure, “Keeping Forests as Forests: A Natural Solution to climate change,” explains the need for carbon sequestration, the process by which trees and other plants pull oxygen out of the air through photosynthesis and stored as carbon.

Hazelton said that the three points coming out of the forest management is to protect the soil, where half of the carbon in a forest is stored; promote native species, grow big trees and selectively harvest.

Hazelton said the collaboration with experts in science communications taught him to accept the scrutiny of editing and how to present information that would be understandable for a layperson.

“When I am working on a similar publication or a similar piece of analysis,” Hazelton said, “I will feel more comfortable reaching out to double check what I have done to improve the quality of my work.”

For Raether, he developed his interviewing skills in order to have in depth conversations about relationships with the natural world. It solidified his interest about the connection with human health and environmental health.

“Both projects will benefit KLT and the state as a whole,” said Kerchner. 

Raether and Hazelton started their nine-week internships on June 25. They worked 40-hour weeks, and were paid $1,000 each for the summer. 

Housing for the interns was provided at no cost at the Vaughan Woods and Historic Homestead in Hallowell in exchange for their assistance with its summer programming. 

The Winthrop-based trust’s annual meeting will be at 1 p.m. Sunday at Camp Androscoggin. 

Prior to the meeting will be the Tri-Sport Challenge at 9 a.m.; a hike in Perkins Woods, a trip to Norris Island, open swimming at 10:45 a.m.; and a potluck lunch. 

The meeting will include the presentation of the Howard Lake Lifetime Achievement Award and others.

Conserving Little Things That Matter - KLT’s 2019 Lyceum

Bob Kimber, KLT Advisor

Phil deMaynadier, a biologist with Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, led off this year’s lyceum with a talk about the department’s efforts to locate, map, and protect habitats essential to the wellbeing not only of aquatic insects—the main focus of his remarks—but of other species as well. In the course of his talk, Phil used the phrase “conserving little things that matter,” which struck me as an appropriate motto for all three of this year’s lectures, because each one showed us vividly how much these little creatures do indeed matter.

Charlene Donahue, retired Maine Forest Service Entomologist and President of the Maine Entomological Society, began her talk on terrestrial insects by noting a few of the crucial roles insects play in maintaining the ecological health of our world. Despite all the benefits insects provide to natural systems worldwide and to us humans as well, we have not been as considerate of them. Scientists in Germany have reported a 76-percent loss of flying insects over the last 27 years, and similar reports from around the globe have led scientists to declare half the world’s insect species in decline.

As to causes, the agricultural practice of using every square inch of tillable land and leaving no hedgerows for insects to winter over in is one major culprit, along with the use of insecticides and synthetic fertilizers. Also, invasive plant species can crowd out native plants. Then there are the impacts of global warming. In the final talk of the series, Roger Rittmaster, a retired endocrinologist and Maine Master Naturalist, reported on the many strategies he has used on his own property to combat these hazards to insects, strategies that make use of Roger’s extensive knowledge about the interactions between particular plants and insects. He also recommended some simpler steps all of us can take, which I’ll wager just about any entomologist would endorse: Don’t use pesticides and herbicides. Reduce lawn space. Grow native plants. Bushhog fields late in the fall. Let flowers bloom.

Conserving a Land Ethic and our Cultural Heritage

Avery Siler, Legacy Society member and past KLT intern

Before my internships with KLT, I had never been to Maine. Once I arrived, it didn’t take me long to understand why people love it so much – there’s something about it that just gets into your soul. I was lucky enough to see a fair bit of the state in my two summers at KLT, from Cutler Coast to Katahdin to the Bigelows, but I’m very glad that I was rooted in Kennebec County. Its hills and lakes, its forests and fields, all became a home to me. I can’t think of a better guardian of that home than KLT.

At a time when I was just beginning to consider what a career in conservation could look like, KLT shaped my idea of what conservation could and should be: a land ethic marked by a consideration of the whole system within which humans interact with the environment, and a dedication not only to land, but to people and cultural heritage. KLT’s work goes beyond just setting aside natural places to considering how conservation can be a tool to help communities of both the ecological and the human varieties. I’m consistently impressed by the creativity KLT’s staff and volunteers bring to their work, whether it’s creating the Local Wood WORKS initiative or restoring the blueberry fields on Mt. Pisgah.

As a young person working in a non-profit, I don’t have huge financial resources at my disposal, but I wanted to be able to make a meaningful gift to KLT and help ensure support for years to come. I made KLT a beneficiary of my 401(k), a step that enabled me to plan a larger gift than I could currently give otherwise. It was simple to name a beneficiary through my online account. There’s also the added benefit that because KLT is a 501(c)(3), the gift won’t be subject to the estate tax. I’m so grateful for KLT, and I’m thrilled to be able to support it.

For more information about our Legacy Society please click here.

Interns’ Vaughan Woods Wednesdays

For the second year, KLT interns supported our friends at the Vaughan Woods and Historic Homestead. Every Wednesday, Vaughan Woods hosts children from the city of Hallowell’s recreation program. Children visit Vaughan Woods for an environmental education or history program, and depending on the weather, get to spend a lot of time out in the woods. They host the youngest children on week one, and every week an older age group joins them until the program ends.

 Kate Tremblay, Executive Director at Vaughan Woods, says “The Kennebec Land Trust Interns provide youthful positive role models - its wonderful for our local kids to be exposed to young adults who are pursuing a career in conservation and who genuinely love and care for the natural world. We are grateful for this partnership and truly enjoy getting to know the interns each year!”

 This partnership has been a great opportunity for KLT to support the Vaughan Homestead and to help create meaningful outdoor experiences for youth in our community. Jordan Tanguay, one of our 2018 interns, said, “The other day, we walked up through the stream catching eels and frogs, and saw a snapping turtle. The kids also made stick boats, went searching for butterflies in the field, and got a kick out of watching the Vaughan Woods chickens. I think the kids really like learning about local history and the environment in a non-classroom setting and it’s a lot of fun for us, too.”

To learn more about our internship program and to apply for current opportunities click here.


Land for Sale by Owner

30± ACRES OF LAND in West Gardiner, Maine, located between Lindsey
Lane and the Collins Mills Road on the west side of the Hallowell-Litchfield
Road with 288 feet of road frontage and further described as follows:
A certain lot or parcel of land situated in the said West Gardiner and bounded
and described as follows: Northerly by land now or formerly of Warren H.
Davis; easterly by land now or formerly of Reuben L. Snow; southerly by the
country road leading from Hallowell to Litchfield and westerly by land now or
formerly of the heirs of the late Orron E. Towle, containing thirty (30) acres,
more or less.
Being the premises described in deed of Thelma R. Wakefield to Thelma R.
Wakefield and Kendra W. Shaw dated August 8, 1988 and recorded in Book
3403, Page 232.
For sale by sealed bid offer only. All offers must be received on or before July
23, 2018. The successful bidder will be notified by August 1, 2018 and must
be prepared to close within 45 days. The owner expressly reserves the right to
reject any and all bids.
Mail sealed bids to: The Kennebec Land Trust, PO Box 261, Winthrop, ME 04364.
For all inquiries and additional information on the location, please call: (207) 377-2848.