The scenic and mostly unbroken shoreline, panoramic vistas, and pristine waters of the Chiputneticook Chain of Lakes are likened to a masterpiece on canvas. Few, if any, places remain in the eastern part of the United States from Augusta, Maine to Miami, Florida that offer the unspoiled beauty where moose, loons and the American bald eagle make their home. Sportsmen, nature seekers, and bird watchers have come to recognize this wilderness and water highway to experience a powerful respite.
Beginning in the 1950’s, Woodie Wheaton brought many sportsmen to this rugged, breath-taking region primarily to test their skill on landlocked salmon and smallmouth bass, chain pickerel, and white perch. His 68-year guiding tradition allowed regular and continual intimate exposure to the natural character of the area. He had a deep appreciation for this unspoiled part of our world and showed concern for its future. The region so impacted “folks from away” with its rustic, unspoiled nature, Class A drinking water, wild things, both fish, fowl and animal, that they could not wait to return, year after year, to inhale the intoxicating aroma from the pine, spruce and fir, photograph the colorful hardwoods and granite covered shoreline, relax at remote lunch sites and say, “I didn’t know there was a place like this left in the country.” He left a legacy that so impacted a growing cadre of folks that the 114th Maine Legislature of 1991 in LD 766 renamed Pickle Island as Woodie Wheaton Island.
But larger and more far reaching, the Woodie Wheaton Land Trust, a 501c3 charitable organization was officially formed in 1996 to protect some of his and our treasures…. forever. We are proud of what we do and hope the lives of all our grandchildren, as Woodie cared about his, may be enriched from this good work.
In 1994 the area known as the “Booming Out” grounds (where the log drivers established a collection point, logs tied together with chains acted as a corral of sorts so they could be towed down Spednic Lake) at the outlet from Mud Lake a 400 acre parcel was brought to the attention of Land for Maine Futures Board and the state of Maine. It was conveyed to Inland Fisheries and Game as an ecological reserve to be saved forever.
In 1995, the Trust quietly promoted a 500-foot easement along more than 16 miles of Spednic Lake shoreline and fee interest which included Walker, Monument, Hairy, Pickle (Woodie Wheaton Island) and 4 other unnamed islands conveyed by Baskehegan Lumber Company to the State of Maine.
In 1996, Dale Wheaton and Mark Danforth witnessed a float plane land on Spednic Lake and someone stepped out to place a “For Sale” sign on the Birch Islands, always considered the crown jewel of Spednic Lake. The very thought of the heart and soul of this watershed being For Sale sent a ripple through the guide corps. While concern had been growing amongst guides that this lake and for that matter, the region, could be lost to pressures of an ever encroaching world, immediate action was taken as long time guide Andrew Brooks quoted, “If we have to. We must dig into our own pockets to buy Birch Island”. The resultant 25-acre purchase of Birch Island and Little Birch Island by WWLT was later conveyed to the State of Maine with restrictive deed covenants.
In 1999, the Trust accepted Freda Island, located at the outlet of the Stream of East Grand Lake for public use in perpetuity.
Also in 1999, the Trust strongly urged the Province of New Brunswick to maintain the wild character of the newly acquired Georgia Pacific timberlands along the St. Croix waterway. In 2001, the Province created the 64,000-acre Spednic Lake Protected Natural Area as a permanent reserve within the Crown Lands ownership.
In 2001, the Trust collaborated with partner organizations; the St. Croix Waterway Commission, the New England Forestry Foundation (NEFF), and the State of Maine to protect a 500-foot corridor along 50 miles of pristine lake and river frontage and more than 3,000 acres of wildlife habitat. This property was conveyed through the Woodie Wheaton Land Trust to the State of Maine with restrictive deed covenants.
From 2003-2005, the Trust actively participated in partnership with the Downeast Lakes Land Trust to extinguish development on 312,000 acres of working forest land in Washington County. This massive Downeast Lakes Forestry Partnership was the largest purchase by protective measure in Washington County.
In 2008, the Trust purchased another jewel, 6.1-acre Big and Little Greenland Islands, on East Grand Lake, located next to the well-known fishing grounds of Greenland Cove. Billy Springer, a tall, lanky fellow who lived alone in one of his two cabins, called the hermit of Greenland Island, would be proud that his old homestead is held in such high esteem, to be enjoyed by all. Our local historian, Bud Brooks with his father Waldo, visited Billy Springer in winter, Bud being towed on a sled pulled by his superb skater, dad. The old block chimney remains a part of the island as well as the little front channel of access, both a nice historical reminder of Springer’s handiwork. The charm of this place allows a brief interlude to disengage from daily cares and concerns and breathe a great sigh of relief from life’s trials and tribulations. Now the “dingle stick” rests over the guides rock fire pit alongside the picnic table and stands as a warm welcome for all.
In 2008, the Trust provided financial collateral to a sister organization, the Downeast Lakes Land Trust, toward the conservation of a 22,000-acre parcel along West Grand Lake. Our namesake, Woodie Wheaton, and his three sons hail from and have deep family roots in the village of Grand Lake Stream.
In 2009, the Woodie Wheaton Land Trust Center was completed to serve as the Trust’s business office and meeting facility. Through the generosity of Ruth Wheaton, wife of Woodie Wheaton, came the donation of property, one of the most desirable building sites in the village and through a major enabling financial contribution by Robert Hector, approximately one-third of the Center’s anticipated project cost became a reality. It now provides a base for community outreach, education, field trips, and successful speaker series and is available for use by other community groups in Maine and New Brunswick. This new Center provides for a new level of professionalism and allows directors a place to meet away from their own cottage porches, living rooms, and kitchens taking place into the wee hours, which invaded family privacy for 15 years. Now those closets cramped with maps and bedrooms stacked with file cabinets have a permanent residence and an organization run on deep-seated passion and personal sacrifice is better positioned for the Herculean tasks of conservation, encroachment defense, and staunch stewardship of the future.
A five (5) year effort lead by the Woodie Wheaton Land Trust named the “East Grand Watershed Initiative” was committed to a path of conservation through an outright purchase of fee interest in 2011 by The Conservation Fund. The 12,013 acres of forest and shore lands included a 1,750 acre deer wintering area of state-wide significance, hundreds of acres of high value wetlands, wildlife and bird habitat, and nearly 30 miles of shoreline along Monument Stream, East Grand Lake, Longley, Deering, North, Sucker and Brackett Lakes.
In 2012, the Land Trust began a multi-year effort to help strengthen the protection of the Canadian Shore. A Cross Border Working Agreement was executed with The Nature Trust of New Brunswick to help facilitate future funding of conservation projects within the International corridor. The relationship with The Nature Trust led to collaborative work on the Department of Natural Resources Protected Natural Areas Program and the Crown Lands Exchange policy. Crown Lands comprise nearly all of the remaining undeveloped shorefront along the upper St. Croix including East Grand in the Province of New Brunswick.
Our work will likely never be done and our resources are not enough for all the tasks ahead of us, but our efforts remain undeterred. As strategic planning elevates key areas of importance within the organization, such as conservation education and outreach, and succession planning for strong leadership; we recognize the kind and generous folks that have brought us along. Folks like Ruth Wheaton and Robert Hector saw the passion and commitment of an unselfish and futuristic board to step forward with a real estate gift and a financial bequest that provided a major endowment toward financial security.
The importance of our past work can be best appreciated from the air and on the waterway of this Lakes Region, but, it is the necessary work of the organization that consumes the human resource. To this end, the Woodie Wheaton Land Trust is forever grateful for all those past and present that have contributed so much in time, talents, service and support to the Organization. The work ahead, however, must rest with a new generation of individuals….individuals that share deeply our core values…and whose unsung efforts will build upon the good work of those left behind.