A History of Blue Hill Heritage Trust

Prepared by James W. Dow

The Blue Hill Heritage Trust was founded in 1985 by a group of local residents who were looking for a way to counter the increasing development pressures that were threatening to alter the character of the Blue Hill peninsula, epitomized by a condominium proposal on Peter’s Cove in Blue Hill. They were assisted by the Maine Coast Heritage Trust, which had experience in helping the formation of local land trusts. The organization was incorporated under the laws of the state of Maine in 1985 as a membership-funded organization and received 501(c)(3) status from the internal Revenue Service the same year. Its first president was Jean Nickerson.

During its early years the Trust relied solely on donations of land or conservations easements to accomplish its mission. Board members, with the assistance of Maine Coast Heritage Trust staff, developed the land protection projects and volunteers attended to the stewardship and conservation easement monitoring responsibilities. The first parcel of land acquired by the Trust was a 13-acre tract in Penobscot on Toddy Pond, donated by Jerrold and Diana Hinckley in August 1986. The first conservation easement held by the Trust was donated by Lucy Chamberlain in September 1986 and covered a 17-acre shorefront parcel on Herrick Bay in Brooklin.

In 1992, the Trust undertook its first capital fundraising campaign, under the leadership of its second President, Ellen Werner, to fund the purchase of a 19-acre parcel on the western slope of Blue Hill Mountain that was the proposed site for a residential development project. This $300,000 campaign was successfully completed in 1993. In 1997, under the leadership of Board President Lorenzo Mitchell, the Trust took another significant step forward by undertaking its second capital campaign, this one for $235,000 to acquire land around Fourth Pond in Blue Hill. This campaign was based on a clear decision by the Trust’s Board of Directors that land acquisition was a necessary and increasingly important land protection tool; previously conservation easements were considered the primary and preferred tool. This decision thus represented an important shift in the way the Trust approached its work.

In 1998, a tract of land that included the summit of Blue Hill Mountain was bequeathed to the Trust by Louise Frederick and became the highest-visibility property protected by the Trust. This property also became a focus of the Trust’s stewardship activities. Through trail work parties and extensive trail improvements, the Trust worked to strengthen public support not only for this property but also for land conservation in general.

In 1999, buoyed by the successful conclusion of the Fourth Pond capital campaign the previous year, the Trust ambitiously commenced a $1.6 million multi-faceted capital campaign, known as the “Peninsula 2000” campaign, again under Lorenzo Mitchell’s leadership. This campaign focused on the conservation of farmland, Caterpillar Hill and a variety of other lands, and building the organization’s endowment.

Also in 1999, the Trust was awarded the Land Heritage Award by the Maine Coast Heritage Trust, which is given annually to an organization or individual in recognition of outstanding leadership and accomplishment in land conservation in Maine. This award came with special recognition of the Trust’s work in local farmland conservation. 1999 also marked the beginning of the Trust’s “Walks and Talks” program, a series of outdoor educational outreach events centered on conservation lands and natural history. Along with a newsletter published twice a year, this series helped form a deeper connection between the Trust and its members, supporters and the general public.

A major milestone in the organization’s history was the successful completion of the “Peninsula 2000” capital campaign at the end of 2001. The early success of this campaign gave the Trust the confidence to hire its first Executive Director in May of 2001, who helped the Trust cap the campaign with the acquisition of the Cooper Farm property on Caterpillar Hill. Because the $1.6 million campaign was one of the largest ever undertaken by a local land trust in this state, it brought the Trust further recognition as one of Maine’s leading land trusts.

In the years following the “Peninsula 2000” campaign, the Trust focused on developing its organizational structure and capacity while at the same time aggressively pursuing new land conservation projects and carefully attending to its growing stewardship responsibilities. During that period the Trust completed and adopted its first five-year strategic plan, developed its first long-term management plan for a conservation property, reorganized its stewardship program, created a series of public walking trails on its properties, and worked to integrate itself more fully into community life. It also completed a series of new land projects (an average of 9 new projects a year from 2003 to 2005), adding new conservation land to its portfolio of owned properties (many funded by the money raised in the earlier capital campaign) as well as adding to the list of privately owned properties on which it holds conservation easements.

In 2005, the 20th anniversary of its founding, the Trust took another step forward in its organizational development by purchasing a highly visible, attractive and historic property in Blue Hill, known as the William Carleton House, as a permanent home for the organization. Financed by a bank loan secured by a mortgage and some targeted fundraising, this purchase fulfilled one of the Trust’s strategic goals, ending a series of office moves between rental spaces. After some preliminary renovations were completed, the Trust moved its offices to the William Carleton House at 258 Mountain Road in July of 2005.

In 2008, after the completion the previous year of a feasibility study by an outside consultant, the Trust commenced its fourth capital campaign, “Uncommon Places, Shared Spaces”, a multi-million dollar campaign intended to fund new land projects as well as to build its operating and stewardship endowment funds. After a fast start, the progress of this campaign was severely affected by the international economic crisis that took hold in the fall of 2008, resulting in a re-thinking of the campaign goals, timeframe and strategies. The campaign was completed in March 2012. The value of the gifts of land and money during the campaign period totaled $4,244,093 and resulted in the completion of 20 new land projects totaling 1,095 acres. This campaign made it possible for the Trust to acquire several new properties, including another large property on Blue Hill Mountain as well as new preserves on Patten Stream in Surry and Wallamatogus Mountain in Penobscot. It also allowed the Trust to assist Maine Coast Heritage Trust with the purchase and protection of Jed Island at the mouth of Morgan Bay and add funds to its Stewardship Fund.

In early 2009, a new strategic conservation plan was completed for the Trust by Janet McMahon, a highly regarded ecologist and conservation planner. This planning document, intended to help guide the Trust’s future land conservation work, identified a series of “focus areas” with intact landscape features worthy of future protection. A full organizational assessment was also begun in 2009, which began the process of preparing for accreditation by the national Land Trust Accreditation Commission.

In 2010, the Trust celebrated the 25th anniversary of its founding. The celebration included a “gala” dinner party organized by volunteers, held under a tent at a member’s shorefront property in East Blue Hill and attended by 300 people. It also included a separate family-oriented “Mountain Day” on Blue Hill Mountain that included a race up the Mountain, music, food and games for children.

As of December 2011, the Trust had protected 5,817 acres of land in its service area, including 2,162 acres in 42 parcels of conservation land owned by the Trust and 3,645 acres protected by 55 conservation easements (including 2,024 acres of high quality local farmland.) It also owned or managed approximately 14 miles of walking trails available to the public.

In 2012, the Trust completed the national accreditation application process, which included a lengthy application as well as follow-up communications with the Land Trust Accreditation Commission (LTAC). The preparation and application process was assisted by a grant from the Maine Excellence Program of the Maine Coast Heritage Trust’s Maine Land Trust Network, which allowed the Trust to contract with Jennifer Traub to coordinate the effort. In January 2013, the Trust was awarded accreditation by LTAC for a five-year term of February 1, 2013 through January 31, 2018, at the time one of only nine accredited land trusts in Maine and one of only 206 in the United States. In September 2013, the Trust was one of several land trusts honored at the national Land Trust Alliance’s rally in New Orleans.

Also in 2012, a partnership that included Blue Hill Heritage Trust, Maine Coast Heritage Trust and the Conservation Trust of Brooksville, Castine and Penobscot was awarded a one million dollar matching grant from the North American Wetlands Conservation Act program for a multi-parcel land conservation project in the Bagaduce River watershed, an area recognized as being of statewide ecological significance. The Bagaduce River watershed also included several of the conservation focus areas identified in the 2009 McMahon conservation planning report. Over the next two years, and before the grant deadline in September 2014, the partners completed seventeen land projects that fulfilled the grant obligations, met the matching fund requirement and raised funds to add to the Trust’s Stewardship Fund to complement each of the new projects.

Arranging the details of a merger with the Conservation Trust of Brooksville, Castine and Penobscot (TCT) was a major focus of the Trust’s work during 2013. On March 31, 2014, the legal final step was taken at a special membership meeting of TCT’s members, and as of April 1, 2014, with the filing of the necessary papers with the State of Maine and at the Hancock County Registry of Deeds, Blue Hill Heritage Trust became the sole local land trust on the Blue Hill Peninsula and TCT ceased to exist. As a result of the merger, BHHT added Castine to its service area, absorbed the non-land assets, operations and membership of TCT and acquired 15 of its conservation properties. The remainder of TCT’s properties were transferred to Maine Coast Heritage (MCHT) prior to the legal merger as part of a merger agreement. MCHT played a key role in assisting with the merger process, contributing grant funding and staff time. During the course of the merger process, BHHT and MCHT joined together in a capital campaign to raise funds to support the long-term stewardship of the former TCT lands since TCT’s own stewardship fund was small. This campaign raised slightly over $300,000, which was divided among the two organizations pursuant to a Memorandum of Agreement.

During the 2011– 2015 period, the Trust also gave increased focus to its outdoor programs and trail offerings. It continued and expanded the Walks and Talks series it had offered since 1999. A very active and engaged volunteer Outreach Committee helped make the expanded offering possible, which in 2013 included 34 different programs. In 2015 the Trust created and filled a new full-time staff position to focus on community outreach.

During this same period, the Trust also gave increased focus to trail building on its conservation lands. These public walking trails helped demonstrate a clear public benefit of the Trust’s work and helped attract new members. In 2013, the Trust published a trail guide to all of its trails, as well as those on lands owned by Maine Coast Heritage and The Conservation Trust, which proved to be very popular with residents and visitors. As of December 2015, the Trust was managing over 25 miles of public walking trails in twenty-five locations throughout the Blue Hill Peninsula, including the three trails on Blue Hill Mountain that are hiked thousands of times a year. It also had several other trails projects in the planning stages.

Although the range and depth of its various activities expanded over the years, land protection and land stewardship continued to be the Trust’s primary focus. As of December 31, 2015, the Trust had conserved 7229 acres in its seven town service area. This included ownership of 68 parcels totaling 3,288 acres, conservation easements on 84 parcels of land totaling 3,633acres, one deed restriction on 10 acres and three conservation easements totaling 298 acres that were transferred to other conservation organizations. In addition, the Trust held four deeded trail easements over private land.

Initially the Trust relied totally on volunteers, especially Board members, to conduct its business. This changed in 1995 with the hiring of Pat Watson, a recent College of the Atlantic graduate, as a part-time administrative staff person. This position gradually grew into a full-time administrative director position, which Pat held until the end of 2000. At that time, based on the Board’s decision that the Trust had reached the point in its development where professional staff was necessary, the Trust conducted a nation-wide search for an experienced land conservation professional to serve as its first Executive Director. This search led to the hiring of Jim Dow, a Blue Hill resident, a long-time employee of The Nature Conservancy, and a former Blue Hill Heritage Trust Board member. Dow began on May 1, 2001. A part-time administrative assistant position that was created in 2000 during the capital campaign was continued following Dow’s hiring. This became a full-time administrative assistant/stewardship coordinator position in early 2002 but later that year was separated into two part-time positions. Although the stewardship position became a full-time position for a few years thereafter, in 2009 it was again part-time. In late 2011, the stewardship and membership/administrative positions were made fulltime. As of December 2015, the Trust’s staff included three full-time positions (Executive Director Jim Dow, Associate Director George Fields, and Outreach & Development Coordinator Chrissy Allen) and one part-time Administrative Assistant (Pete Collier).

With the addition of paid staff, the role of the Board gradually shifted from active participation in all the details of the Trust’s day to day work to a primary focus on governance of the organization. Individual Board members also assisted staff with various programs as volunteers. In 2002, the committee structure became more formalized and Board meetings shifted from every month to every other month. At a special membership meeting in early 2011, a revision of the Trust’s 25 year-old by-laws, intended to reflect current ‘best practices’ employed by organizations of a similar size and function, was approved. This included a shift in the way members of the Board of Directors were elected; formerly elected by the membership at the annual membership meeting, the bylaw change directed that the Board would elect its own members. The number of Board members has ranged from ten to sixteen during its history, as permitted by its bylaws. As of its 30th Annual Membership Meeting in August 2015, the Board included 14 members with diverse skills and backgrounds, including representation from each of the seven towns in the Trust’s service area. In December 2015, Norman Alt was elected by the Board as the Trust’s eleventh president since its founding in 1985. The previous presidents in chronological order were Jean Nickerson, Ellen [Walker] Werner, Ellen Best, Peter Clapp, Lorenzo Mitchell, Alison Dibble, Ben Emory, Pam Johnson, John Merrifield and Mary Barnes.

(Last updated 02-18-2016)