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35th Maine Land Conservation Conference Breaks the Mold

Who’s afraid of a little nor’easter? Apparently not the 400 Mainers who attended the 35th Annual Maine Land Conservation Conference put on by Maine Coast Heritage Trust. While the snow swirled on March 21 and 22, people who care about Maine’s natural lands and resources gathered at Rockport’s Samoset Resort for a conference that broke the mold.

For the past several decades, the Annual Maine Land Conservation Conference spanned a weekend in April, and offered 33 breakout sessions emphasizing the practical and tactical side of land conservation. This year, Maine Coast Heritage Trust, along with our partners on the Maine Land Trust Network Steering Committee, decided it was the right time to hit the pause button, to look closely at and think deeply and strategically about the land conservation movement and where it goes from here.

 

“We find ourselves on the brink of change in many ways,” says Donna Bissett, MCHT’s Land Trust Program Coordinator. “Maine will elect a new governor in 2018; after a deep recession, the economy is rebounding and development is moving at a pace we haven’t see in some time; land trusts are branching out, working in new ways and rethinking their role in their communities. It seemed like the right time to stop and consider how we can be ready for the change ahead.”

After field tripping to nearby conserved lands on Wednesday, thanks to Georges River Land Trust and Coastal Mountains Land Trust, attendees gathered on Thursday for a shared experience of multi-media and speaker presentations, discussions, workshops, and the presentation of the Espy Land Heritage Award. This year the award was presented to an unconventional recipient, the Portland Water District, which has been collaborating with land trusts surrounding the Sebago watershed to conserve land and protect drinking water for 15% of Maine’s population.

In his welcome address, MCHT President Tim Glidden implored people in the land trust community to “expand [that] community, bringing more people into the fold and entering new folds.” In the three videos that followed, a family new to Maine, the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine David Trahan, and Bailey Bowden, a long-time skeptic of land trusts who led an initiative to restore fish passage in the Bagaduce River watershed, shared thoughts on land conservation in Maine and how it touches their lives.

 Deb Dunlap, Regional Director of Community Partnerships for Protecting Children at The Opportunity Alliance, followed with a presentation sharing her experience bringing together a group of stakeholders with passionate but often conflicting viewpoints to work towards a common goal.

After lunch, seven individuals—ranging from a wildlife biologist to a town manager to the president of a local ATV cub—offered diverse perspectives on how they relate to Maine natural resources, in a moderated conversation. Then, one could hear a pin drop during writing exercises led by The Telling Room, a nonprofit writing center based in Portland. Their mini-workshop led participants on a personal journey writing about place. After a packed day, attendees came together to discuss topics of their own choosing, inspired by what they’d heard and experienced throughout the day.

The day was designed to prompt more questions than answers, to make space for new voices in the land conservation movement, and to remind us all of the good that can come when diverse groups of people come together to listen and speak from the heart. As MCHT’s Land Trust Program Director Warren Whitney said at the close of the day, “We accomplish more by collaborating with others than going it alone.”

The Conference is the kick-off to a year-long learning path. As the snow melts, MCHT staff and the MLTN Steering Committee are making plans for workshops, meetings, trainings, and opportunities for peer-to-peer learning and exchange that build on the themes and discussions that took place at the conference.