AUGUSTA – The city’s Bond Brook Recreation Area will get $50,000 in improvements thanks to a settlement reached between a wind energy project developer and a nonprofit group that opposes wind projects.
Friends of Maine’s Mountains was recently awarded $50,000 in grant funding to the city to be used for capital improvements to the 300-acre recreation area featuring trails for hiking, mountain biking, skiing, snowshoeing, birding and other non-motorized recreational uses.
The specifics of what the funds will be used for will be determined by city officials and Augusta Trails, the city’s partner for the past eight years in the development of trails at Bond Brook Recreation Area.
The grant requires no matching local funds.
“This is just great, it requires no local match and it’s all going toward stuff we’d be trying to raise money as a community to do over in that area,” City Manager William Bridgeo said of the grant. “It’s wonderful.”
In general, the funds, part of a number of recent grant awards from Friends of Maine’s Mountains totaling $1 million, are meant to help projects that help conserve natural resources.
Leif Dahlin, community services director, said city staff would work with the volunteers of Augusta Trails to decide how to best use the money. Augusta Trails is a local nonprofit group that led efforts to create more than 13 miles of trails in the recreation area tucked between the Augusta State Airport, Bond Brook and urban areas of the city.
Bill Rogers, president of Augusta Trails, told city councilors recently the influx of money will help improve the wooded recreation area to make it an even better four-season attraction. Rogers said it has been 10 years since the city authorized acquiring additional land to create the recreation area and eight years since councilors authorized trail development there.
“They’re well-designed and they’re exciting and they’re really challenging,” he said. “And it is in a wilderness setting really in the heart of an urban setting here. On any given day there are walkers, hikers, runners, bikers, birders and, in season, skiers and snowshoers using the trail system.”
Rogers said because of the location, some people use the trails on their lunch hour. And because of the size of the park, it’s possible to ride a 7 mile loop and “not see another person.”
“It’s that much of a wilderness area and, again, in the heart of the city,” he said. “It is such a gem. This grant will give us the impetus to work with city staff to work on a plan to best use this money for continued development.”
The recent annual Treadfest, which featured mountain bike races, drew more than 300 people to the recreation area to participate over two days, June 24 and 25.
The recreation area is accessed primarily via Tall Pines Way, a dirt road into the site built with help from the Maine Army National Guard off Bond Brook Road. There’s another entrance in the cemetery adjacent to Augusta State Airport.
About a half-dozen cars were parked at the recreation area on a recent weekday afternoon, presumably as their drivers used the trails.
Andy Bartleet, of Bethel, emerged from a wooded trail to load his fat-tired bike into his truck. He said it was his first time there, and he had never heard about the area until he found it via an app on his phone. He said he was in the area to go shopping but decided to go for a ride on the trails while he was in the area.
Asked what improvements he thought should be made with the $50,000 grant, he suggested more maps and signs at trail intersections, so trail users know where they are, and where they are going, out on the trails.
“I think it was great,” he said after his ride. “If I knew where I was going I’m sure it would be all that much more fun. I’ll definitely be back.”
The source of the grant funds is a settlement reached between Friends of Maine’s Mountains and Blue Sky West LLC in 2015, when the Friends group that opposes wind energy projects in Maine agreed to drop a lawsuit against SunEdison. The company developed the Bingham Wind Project in Piscataquis and Somerset counties in 2016.
The settlement between the two parties specified the wind project developer would provide $2.5 million for conservation projects across Maine, to be distributed through Friends of Maine’s Mountains.
Other recipients of the latest round of grant awards included $50,000 for the Belgrade Regional Conservation Alliance which used the funds to help pay for the acquisition of Kimball Pond in the Kennebec Highlands, $50,000 for the town of Fayette to make a wheelchair-accessible trail in the Parker Pond Headland, and $95,000 for the Forest Society of Maine for land preservation projects.
Chris O’Neil, vice president of government affairs for Friends of Maine’s Mountains, said most of the grant awards went to non-governmental organizations but the city of Augusta project was considered “because it instills an appreciation for the outdoors despite being in one of Maine’s largest cities.”
He said he’s hopeful the grant award will, if indirectly, help the group inform area residents and recreation area users about what the Friends group feels are problems with wind energy.
Friends of Maine’s Mountain’s mission, O’Neil said in an email, “is to educate the public about wind energy’s massive negative impact and tiny positive benefit. If this award helps to develop anti-wind awareness in Augusta, then it’s a win-win.”
O’Neil said the recipients of the grants are expected to use the funds by the end of 2018.
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