By Ramona du Houx

August 27th, 2010
5672a347a7feaf15-rangelyPart of the “Height of Land” view off route 17 in Maine that will become a lookout on a National Scenic Byway. photo by Ramona du Houx
A Rangeley Lakes National Scenic Byway at the Height of Land got underway with an official groundbreaking on August 14th. When Lady Bird Johnson visited the area 40 years ago, she saw the need to protect the view for future generations. The Rangeley Lakes Heritage Trust made it happen.
“That view says Maine,” said Governor John Baldacci, looking out over the tops of trees at Mooselookmeguntic Lake and the Bemis Mountain Range. “It’s an inspiration to everyone who sees it, and now it’s going to be that way forever.”

The road construction project of a corridor and overlook at Height of Land comes after years of work by RLHT to acquire the panoramic, breathtaking vista off Route 17. Rebecca Kurtz, RLHT program director, submitted a federal appropriation request to Maine’s congressional delegation for $2.9 million dollars. Kurtz also wrote other Scenic Byways grants for the design and engineering of the overlook. Including the federal appropriation, the Byways grants, Land For Maine’s Future funding, and RLHT’s land acquisition, approximately $5 million dollars has been invested in the project, according to RLHT.

“We’ve been working a long time to get this. Before I moved here, I didn’t believe government could help. But collaboration and cooperation amongst the State, the federal government, and the local community really gets thing done in Maine,” said Ed Kfoury, president of the Heritage Trust. “A group of us got together in 1991 and said we have to preserve the lands in this area. So far we’ve conserved over 12,500 acres of land, including 45 miles of lake and river frontage, 17 islands, and Bald Mountain. And now — this.”

The trust still needs to raise $250,000 to complete the land overlook purchase.

“What a great thing you’ve done,” said Baldacci to RLHT members. “The formula for protecting our natural resources in Maine starts with local support; without it you don’t have a project. In Maine we have an ability to get things done working together, putting aside political ideologies — that just doesn’t happen in other states. We know, as stewards, it’s our responsibility to preserve and protect our natural resources for future generations.”

The Baldacci administration has preserved a million acres of land, much with the state’s Land For Maine’s Future program.

“The Land for Maine’s Future program invested $379,000 in this project as part of their focus on coordination with economic development goals of local communities,” said Alan Stearns, deputy director of the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands. “With improved access to the Appalachian Trail and parking for this great view, tourism is only going to increase.”

A section of Route 17 will be moved over 10 to 15 feet into the hillside to make room for a turnout for parking and Appalachian Trail hikers, a pedestrian path, and four informative panels. The pedestrian path will be a loop on part of the hillside. And interested hikers will link up to the Appalachian Trail from the Byway with a new trailhead.

“We were very conscious of the access point to the trailhead and wanted to improve it,” said Larry Johannesman, senior landscape architect for the Maine Department of Transportation. “Hikers will be able to walk behind a new section of guardrail in this overlook to safely access the trail.”

“There will be a terraced road with a green median and a turnout so, as you drive by, you can still catch the view,” said Kurtz.

A picnic area with stone tablet picnic tables, flat-top boulders, and native plants will become part of the overlook, designed with the intent to merge the overlook into the view, as if Mother Nature designed it.

“We wanted to make it as simple as possible, without distracting from the spectacular view,” said Johannesman. “So visitors can go home with memories of a lifetime.”

The construction is expected to start in September and will employ 100 workers.

“This would not have happened without the support of the Land for Maine’s Future program,” said trust Executive Director Nancy Perlson.

The LMF grant enabled the trust to take out a loan and purchase the remaining property needed to complete the view for the overlook. Perlson said LMF funds received for Bald Mountain, Rangeley River, and the Cupsuptic Lake Park and Campground have also been critical to obtaining additional funding.

“LMF gets the ball rolling. It tells the federal government, the bank, and potential donors that we are seriously committed to the project,” said Perlson. “The LMF investments have been leveraged many times over with other funds, including grants, federal funds, and private donations.”

After the groundbreaking, the celebration moved to the grand opening of the Outdoor Sporting Heritage Museum in downtown Oquossoc.

“We’ve been dreaming of this for 15 years,” said Don Palmer, president of the museum association. “And now the dream’s become a reality.”
“It’s important to bring back to life the artifacts and memories of our sporting heritage in a museum,” said Baldacci. “They are part of our heritage and traditions, part of who we are.”

The log-style museum is filled with Rangeley’s sporting memorabilia. Huge trout and salmon are mounted on the walls. There are great old photos, a history of the area’s well-known outdoor experts, and a special Rangeley fishing boat. A section of the museum is a duplication of an original hunting cabin of the 1800s with roofs lined in birchbark. The Native Americans who lived in the region were also represented with artifacts from their settlements.

“For years my wife and I collected a lot of what you see. We got so many items; we outgrew the other location,” said Palmer. “We got donations, the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife gave us a grant, and all together we must have come up with a million dollars for the project.”

Other additions to the collections came from the historical society and private donations.

“Isn’t this amazing? It’s our heritage, my heritage, “ said Rep. Sheryl Briggs looking at the displays. “I feel overwhelmed at the moment. This is my grandfather, Joseph Arsenault. This is his home away from home.”

Finally, a public restroom celebrated its grand opening on the same day. Funds from the Scenic Byways and 20 percent matching funds from the town paid for the public restroom’s construction, which had been planned for twenty years. “It may not be glamorous,” said Kurtz, “but it’s essential. Studies show that if you have a public restroom, people stop, and shop.

“At the trust, we believe that conservation helps build community. That’s really what today has been about; our community preserving our natural heritage for generations to come, while helping economic development grow in the right direction.”

The new public restroom’s ribbon cutting – the old port a potty is at the left. The facility helps businesses, tourism and the town’s quality of life.

At all the celebrations, the same people circulated, children played, and the atmosphere was festive and exemplified Maine’s community spirit.
“I just want to congratulate the community and all their great efforts, because they make Maine the great state that it is,” said the governor.

As the chief of police, Dennis Leahy, said, “Our biggest problem here is from moose; it’s a great community.”