$220,000 to save Hacker’s

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

A VIEW FOR ALL TIME — Carrie Walia, executive director of Loon Echo Land Trust, stands atop Hacker’s Hill holding a fundraising poster entitled “Hacker’s Hill — For All Time” with Dick Anderson, former commissioner of the Department of Conservation and former head of Maine Audubon, at right. With them is Don Hudson, president-elect of the Maine Chapter of the International Appalachian Trail and President emeritus of the Chewonki Foundation. With them that day, taking the photo, was Walter Anderson, chief geologist of the International Appalachian Trail and former Maine State Geologist.

CASCO — Hacker’s Hill, with its allure as an estab­lished “turnkey” hilltop park, scored very high, possibly the highest, in the latest round of grants awarded by Land for Maine’s Future, giving Loon Echo Land Trust a big boost toward its “once-in-a-life­time” goal of raising $800,000 to purchase and preserve the property.

LMF awarded a prelimi­nary $220,000 grant last week to LELT in the regional con­servation/recreational lands grant category after reviewing 16 projects. LELT had asked for $350,000 to buy the 27 acres of mowed fields, picnic area and signature pine trees, and its board agreed to move forward with fundraising if the LMF grant came through at or close to the requested amount.

The grant is preliminary in that it won’t become final until $110,000 in matching funds are raised. The state also will require an acceptable appraisal report and proof of a clear title from Conrad and Jeff Hall, the hill’s owners. The Halls have agreed to sell the land for $700,000, and LELT wants to raise another $100,000 to cover legal costs and an endowment for keeping the hill open to the public.

“With a paved roadway, visitors can climb the hill by car or foot to enjoy the open, grassy hilltop with public facilities nes­tled among the shaded pergola and old pines,” stated a release by the State Planning Office, which governs the LMF program.

Loon Echo’s Hacker’s Hill Campaign Steering Committee has already placed signs and brochures at the bottom of the paved road off Quaker Ridge Road that leads to the summit, which has stunning panoramic views of the White Mountains, Sebago Lake, and rolling countryside. The committee, comprised of eight regional residents, met Wednesday at Migis Lodge to dis­cuss fundraising plans for the summer and fall.

A total of $480,000 will need to be raised just to buy the land, and the LELT board has set an aggressive goal of raising most of that money within a year, as the option agreement expires in 2012. So far, the Town of Casco, at its June town meeting, agreed to contribute $75,000, and the land trust has since received $20,000 from a private donor and $3,000 from Norway Savings Bank.

LELT is taking donations online at www.lelt.org and will be asking local businesses in Casco, Raymond, Naples and Windham to host brochures and displays. Longer-term pledges, over two and possibly three years, for major gifts are being accepted as well, said Carrie Walia, LELT’s executive director. She encourages anyone with questions to call her at 647-4352 or e-mail her at info@lelt.org.

The LMF grant money will come from the $9.25 million bond issue voters approved last November. The grant was part of $5.6 million awarded by LMF this year for six farmland projects and 16 conservation/recreation projects, which also include a portion of Dick Randall’s popular 500-acre apple orchard in Standish and a heritage trail corridor along the Androscoggin River.

Jeff Hall has said his family decided to sell the hill in 2009 because its maintenance was becoming too much of a respon­sibility. They had some interest from private developers, but no offers. His grandfather, Hacker Hall, opened the spot up to the public after he began haying it in the 1960s, and it has evolved to become a popular destination from May to November for both year-round and summer residents. The road is gated at the bot­tom to control access, and the Halls and their friends have been providing regular mowing and maintenance.

Jeff Hall said his family is open to the possibility of having LELT eventually also purchase potential house lots they’ve retained at the base of the hill. If the fundraising is successful, LELT will also acquire the leases for two cell phone towers on the top of the hill, which will help provide a revenue stream for continued maintenance.

Members of the Hacker’s Hill Steering Committee include: Dick Anderson of Portland, Connie Cross of Casco, Eric Dibner of Casco, Dave Dyer of Casco, David Hursty of Bridgton, Grant Plummer of Casco, Tim Porta of Windham, Mark VanWinkle of Raymond and Bill Wales of Casco.

Hacker’s Hill is open from 8:30 a.m. until a half-hour after sunset on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Foot traffic is welcome seven days a week.

Porta, the owner of Migis Lodge in Casco, is quoted in LELT’s brochure as saying of Hacker’s Hill, “The ability of the public to enjoy this natural treasure has not just an emotional and recreational benefit locally, but an economic one as well. The importance of this extraordinarily beautiful spot really can­not be underestimated.”

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