By: Sophie Nelson
Photography: Cyndi Smith
Wolfe Tone supports land trusts and conservation efforts throughout the state. Over the past few years, he has been engaged in the “Crocker project,” to purchase and protect 12,000 acres in the high peaks of Carrabassett Valley.
How did you find your way into conservation work? Growing up outside of the Cleveland area where rivers were burning and lakes were dying, my career interests started with water and water quality protection. Working for the Trust for Public Land is a terrific experience—the best job ever—because of the people and the impact the work makes. I really like how our work spans the urban to the wilderness. This work brings together people who wouldn’t otherwise come together. It’s unifying. It breaks down social, political, economic labels.
How did this breakdown play out in Carrabassett Valley with the Crocker Mountains project? We had to do a lot of listening. We listened to the mountain bikers, the snowmobilers, the skiers, and the biologists—because high elevation forests provide the space and time for species to adapt to a changing climate. The next conversation was about the experience of hiking the Appalachian Trail, which cuts across the top of the Crockers, and the history of cutting wood and moving wood and turning it into product is still relevant and important. Community-driven conservation projects require local buy-in, political support, and often complex funding strategies. Projects move forward and are a success when we focus on common ground—in all senses of the word. My job is to create a tangible real estate transaction that defines expectations and deadlines and then convert peoples’ imaginations into volunteer capital and real dollars to reach our collective goal.
Thanks to the success of the Crockers project, 12,000 acres are now protected from certain kinds of development and belong to the State, correct? Yes. We had to raise the money to buy these acres—the Trust for Public Land, the Maine Appalachian Trail Land Trust, the town of Carrabassett Valley, and the state, raised $7.7 million in a tough economic time. Only a really good story can do that. Now the Carrabassett Valley community, with the state and other partners, can say, Okay, what future do we want to shape with this land? And thanks to the conversations we had early in the effort to purchase the acres, we have a foundation of understanding from which to now integrate and balance the multiple recreation, habitat and climate, and wood production outcomes built into the “why” this work is so important.
What do you find special about this area of Maine? We at the Trust for Public Land think that this whole region—the high peaks, from the White Mountains in New Hampshire to Moosehead Lake—deserves to be in a national spotlight along with the Sierras, with the Crown of the Continent. It’s the largest, intact natural landscape east of the Mississippi. Stitching together the Bigelows, the ski area, the Crockers, and the Appalachian Trail, you start to weave a fabric of opportunity.
What challenges does the project to protect and enhance the Crockers still face? Some people totally get it, because they care about habitat or climate change or they care a lot about the beauty of the area. And then there were others who say, I don’t see the threat…I’m going to come here tomorrow and it’s going to look exactly the same. But our growing population is putting pressures on our landscape. If you take away the U.S.-Canada boundary, there are a lot of people within a 12-hour drive of this region—on the order of 70 million people. That’s a market opportunity and a landscape pressure signal as well.
Are you a skier? Yes, absolutely. In each of these past few years, when I entered Brackett Basin, I’d stop and look back at Sugarloaf Mountain and the Crockers because some of the land we were trying to protect was right behind me. I hope people don’t take this landscape for granted. If they’re going up the chairlift and coming down Timberline or opening their shades and looking at the Crockers, if they could just pause, reflect, and go, “Wow.”