Cross to remain on Hill

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

CASCO — The cross will stay on Hacker’s Hill, even after the land is purchased and preserved for the public.

“This is the victory for those who care about the cross,” Loon Echo Land Trust (LELT) Executive Director Carrie Walia said.

“We made a deal with the state (Land for Maine’s Future) that the cross can stay, but everything else must go,” Walia told the Casco Board of Selectmen on Tuesday.

LELT is heading the fundraising drive for this spring’s purchase of the Hacker’s Hill land for continued public access. In the summer of 2011, Land for Maine’s Future (LFMF) pledged $225,000 toward the $800,000 goal. But, there was a catch — all religious icons had to be removed to stay on the straight and narrow with laws requiring the separation of church and state.

The religious icons, located off Quaker Ridge on the 753-foot mountain, include: A cross created when lightning struck a pine tree and a branch wedged into the trunk, a statue of Jesus and a child carved from wood, and signs for the High Country Mission.

Recently, the state, Loon Echo, and the family members selling the land struck a compromise: Only the cross would remain.

“The cross is the Hall’s primary interest,” Walia said.

“I shared with the Halls that we won’t maintain the cross to the same degree they did. They covered it during the winter and shellacked it. We won’t maintain it but keep it more natural. So, if the wood rots over the years, and it becomes a safety hazard, the cross may have to be removed. And they were okay with that,” she said.

“It comes down to seller’s intent,” Walia said.

The Halls are the private landowners selling the 27-acre parcel known as Hacker’s Hill, which provides visitors with 360-degree views of the region’s lakes, rivers, and mountains. Last week in Augusta, the Appraisal Review Committee gave a nod of approval to a valuation of $700,000 for the tract.

Also, during Tuesday’s meeting, Walia discussed with selectmen the continued documentation of traditional uses on Hacker’s Hill. The Hall family members had provided LELT with a list of the activities people have enjoyed at the popular site.

As the discussion wrapped up, the board decided to advertise for the appointments of a five-person committee to review the list. Both Chairman Barbara York and Selectman Ray Grant showed interest in being involved on the future committee.

The land will continue to be open to the public for hunting, according to Walia.

“We allow hunting at all of our other properties, except for the downtown park in Bridgton,” she said.

“The Halls have always allowed hunting,” she said, adding family members had bagged deer over the years.

“In fact, during hunting season, a sign at the foot of the hill warns visitors to not bring pets. So, hunting takes precedence over other uses — in November,” she said.

Town Manager Dave Morton commented, “I saw the list was all inclusive. It included some uses I didn’t know about.”

Earlier in the discussion, Morton asked Walia if she was seeking from selectmen a list of acceptable uses on the land or a checklist of which groups will help with property maintenance

Walia answered that if community members address the uses first, then people can move into discussions about the perpetual care of the land.

“We can talk a little bit more beyond the uses. The snowmobile club might want to maintain trails,” she said.

She said one task would be establishing the protocol to manage booking the bigger groups that choose Hacker’s Hill for family reunions, get-togethers or nuptials.

“We don’t even own the property yet, and we are already getting phone calls about weddings,” she said.

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