Loon Echo closes deal for Hacker’s Hill

DONE DEAL — Loon Echo Land Trust (LELT) Executive Director Carrie Walia opens the gate to Hacker’s Hill 753-foot summit. On Thursday, LELT purchased the 27-acre parcel for $700,000 to insure future public access. (De Busk Photo)

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

CASCO — The gates will be open to the public for future generations — as a local land trust took over the ownership of Hacker’s Hill last week.

Actually, for decades, people have been allowed access to this mountain’s summit and trail systems. The previous private landowners, the Hall family, permitted this.

Now, the continued preservation of the 753-foot mountain is a reality. Traditional uses, ranging from kite flying to in-season hunting, can continue on the land.

Creating a 10-year land management plan — with the help of the community and support of the previous caretakers — appears to be one of the next steps in Hacker’s Hill preservation.

A step already taken: The real estate deal has been sealed.

“It feels real, finally. It finally happened. We are all just so happy,” said Carrie Walia, the executive director for Loon Echo Land Trust (LELT).

On Thursday, LELT became the owners of the 27-acre parcel of Hacker’s Hill when the Hall family and the nonprofit finalized the real estate deal. The acreage was sold at the state-appraised price of $700,000.

Walia said she felt the relief of wrapping up the land purchase before Thursday’s handshakes and prior to handing off the check.

“Earlier, when we got word that the last of the title issues were worked out and the paperwork was ready, it became real. I thought, ‘I am not going to wait another week, or two, or three weeks,’” she said.

“It was a big relief that the puzzle pieces fell into place,” she said.

As the closing time neared, the landowners’ lawyer discovered issues with multiple names on the title, which delayed the land buyout by about a month.

“It happened five weeks later than the initial planned closing date. We got a little nervous while the attorneys were doing their work.

But it was worth the wait to make certain it got done correctly,” Walia said, adding the entire land trust staff is excited about completing this milestone.

Even with LELT holding the deed that promises public access, the trek is not over.

The path to ownership includes continued fundraising to cover the mortgage ($145,000), as well as learning how to manage the popular site, Walia said.

“Now that we are the owners, we are going to mentor under Don Fowler and Conrad Hall,” she said.

Hall is one of the landowners; and Fowler has been a caretaker of the property since the 1970s.

“They have pledged to help during the next year. We will shadow them and learn about the management of Hacker’s Hill,” Walia said.

Walia said likely she and another LELT staff member Jon Evans will be involved in the year-long training.

The management will be two-fold: maintenance of the acreage and booking large gatherings during the summer like family reunions, funeral receptions, birthdays, and weddings, she said.

“We will learn how they do weddings, how to work with the bride and groom to pull it off,” she said.

“We will take over the registration book very soon, and have a process for booking events,” Wallis said.

In addition to that paperwork, the land trust must draft a 10-year management plan.

“We always write a management plan for the properties we own. They include recreation, natural resource protection, and vegetation management,” Walia said.

The latter “is usually forestry, but in this case, it’s mowing,” she said.

The art of mowing is assisted by having some knowledge of the terrain, which is spotted with granite rocks that are not kind to the mower.

“They go through blades quite often,” Walia added.

Before a volunteer list is handed out, LELT staff will “identify the needs first,” she said.

“We will have some community days, some trash cleanup days. The best times are in the springtime and in the fall. When the hill is first opening, it will need to be cleaned up,” she said.

Also in future plans, working with the Casco Recreation Department and other appropriate groups to offer educational and recreational programs geared toward children, Walia said.

But, that is down the road, too.

With the transfer of the property, LELT faces another year of fundraising to cover the money borrowed for the purchase. Another $145,000 still needs to be raised before the summer of 2013.

“Just because the land has been purchased, it doesn’t mean we don’t continue to accept donations for this project,” Walia said.

The next fundraiser falls in August: It is a run/walk from the west end of Quaker’s Ridge Road to the top of Hacker’s Hill.

For more information about making pledges to the Hacker’s Hill Campaign, or to view planned events, go to www.loonecholandtrust.org

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