In 1998, the Belgrade Regional Conservation Alliance (BRCA) initiated a project to protect the Kennebec Highlands area in Rome, Mount Vernon, Vienna, and New Sharon, Maine. The Kennebec Highlands’ 6,800 acres contain the highest peaks in Kennebec County, including the summit of McGaffey Mountain, miles of pristine streams, several wetlands, and five undeveloped ponds. The area is managed in partnership with the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry (DACF). Our long-term goal is to protect over 11,000 acres in and around the Kennebec Highlands, providing a major regional resource for public recreation and wildlife habitat.
The Land for Maine’s Future program has been a strong financial supporter of the Kennebec Highlands project through four rounds of financing. Phase I and II of the project protected 5,500 acres for public use and habitat. Phase III included the summit of McGaffey Mountain, the highest peak in Kennebec County, and added 1,011 acres to the Highlands. Phase IV added another 283 acres bringing the total amount of protected land to 6,800 acres. In each of these phases, local financial support and foundation funding have been critical to raising the cash match for these acquisitions.
The Kennebec Highlands remains the largest contiguous block of conserved land in central Maine, and one of the few potential landscape-scale conservation projects in this part of the state. At present, the Highlands is part of 15,000 acres of relatively undeveloped forest and wetland habitat. It is the only forest block of its size, quality, elevation, and bedrock diversity in the central part of the state, proximate to population centers, and having substantial portions already preserved. All of these features are critical to the water quality of the Belgrade Lakes Watershed.
Protected areas include thousands of acres within the watershed of Long Pond, protecting the lake’s water quality and areas draining into the Sandy River, where spawning Atlantic salmon have been documented.
Our long-term goal to preserve 11,000 acres in the Kennebec Highlands is based on the minimum habitat requirements for numerous wildlife species including interior nesting birds, raptors, and wide-ranging species including bear, bobcat, moose, lynx, and otter.
During the last decade, hiking and multi-use trails have been developed in the Highlands, including:
Round Top Trail
Sanders Hill Trail
With the recent acquisition of the Kimball Pond property, new trails and access points are planned for the first time on the western side of the property.
As development pressures continue to encroach on the beautiful Belgrade Lakes, it is imperative that we act now to protect our remaining large tracts of land and open space. Once they are sold and developed, it will be almost impossible to conserve them for the future. Continuing our efforts to protect the Kennebec Highlands will assure that future generations will be able to enjoy the mountains, ponds and landscape as we do now. Conservation will help guarantee that hiking, fishing, and hunting will be part of our legacy.