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Sebago Clean Waters Awarded $8 Million 

USDA Grant to Protect Water Quality and 

Other Benefits of Sebago Lake 

Watershed Forests


Sebago Clean Waters (SCW) reached a significant milestone along its path to protect the Sebago Lake watershed this week when the coalition received an $8 million U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Regional
Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) grant.

Portland Water District, as the lead partner for the grant, will manage the funds and work closely with other SCW partners. The five-year grant will support forest conservation, land stewardship, aquatic invasives control, stream connectivity, and
landowner outreach in the Sebago Lake watershed.

SCW partners will use the grant to leverage another $10.5 million from public and private sources needed to reach the initiative’s five-year goal of protecting 10,000 acres of high-priority forestland in the region and implement other watershed protection measures.

“This extraordinary $18.5 million combined investment from USDA and our partners gives a major boost to our efforts to protect Greater Portland's water source,” said Spencer Meyer of the Highstead Foundation and co-chair of Sebago Clean Waters. “This project protects both the environment and the economy by linking the upstream landowners that steward the woods and waters and the downstream businesses and residents who rely on this pristine resource."

This major new initiative will greatly enhance SCW’s ability to meet its goal of protecting 25 percent of the land in the Sebago watershed in the next 15 years. Currently, only 11 percent of the forests in the 234,000-acre watershed are conserved. These forests act as a natural filter for the water that feeds into 

Sebago Lake. As the drinking water supply for more than 200,000 people in Greater Portland—Maine’s largest urban area—the lake is a unique and critical resource for the state. The increasing pace of

A woman enjoys drinking clean water while hiking in the Sebago Lake watershed. Photo credit: Cait Bourgault or @photocait

A woman enjoys drinking clean water while hiking in the Sebago Lake watershed. Photo credit: Cait Bourgault 

Sebago Clean Waters is a partnership between the

Portland Water District and eight local, regional, and national conservation organizations working collaboratively to protect water quality, community well-being, a vibrant economy, and fish and wildlife habitat in the Sebago region through voluntary forest conservation and stewardship. Sebago Clean Waters partners are Loon Echo Land Trust, Western Foothills Land Trust, Casco Bay Estuary Partnership, Highstead Foundation, Lakes Environmental Association, Open Space Institute, Portland Water District, The Nature Conservancy, and The Trust for Public Land.

  Portland Water District protects public health, safety, and the     environment by providing their customers first-class water,     wastewater, and related services.

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With the grant funds, Sebago Clean Waters will conserve more land near the Crooked River, Sebago Lake’s largest tributary, to protect drinking water, improve wildlife habitat, and provide increased recreational access. Photo credit: Jerry Monkman,

development in the region threatens the quality of this pristine water supply.


“The first step in providing safe drinking water is to protect the water source. This grant will enable the protection of thousands of acres of forests that naturally clean Sebago Lake,” said Carrie Lewis, general manager of Portland Water District. “We work with willing landowners who want to see their forests stay forests forever. The result is we get cleaner drinking water and help keep Maine looking like Maine,” added Paul Hunt, environmental services manager at Portland Water District.


In addition to protecting drinking water, these funds will improve aquatic habitat for wildlife, boost local and regional economic benefits through the forest products sector, and provide public health benefits through increased recreational access.

“We are in a watershed moment figuratively, and now literally, thanks to this grant and our partners at Sebago Clean Waters,” said Lee Dassler, executive director of SCW partner Western Foothills Land Trust. “Protecting our forests and waters, strengthening
the forest-based economies of our region, and ensuring biological diversity in the watershed—all elements of this grant—are essential to achieving a sustainable future for our wild and human communities.”

In its first two and a half years, SCW partners have already protected nearly 2,000 acres of critical forest with the help of public and private donors, and a growing number of Portland-based business partners. As part of this new initiative, SCW is seeking
additional business partners to co-invest in the sustainability of the Sebago Lake watershed.

Through RCPP, NRCS co-invests with partners to implement projects that demonstrate innovative solutions to conservation challenges and provide measurable improvements and outcomes. SCW was one of ten recipients out of 49 applicants this year for the RCPP Alternative Funding Arrangements (AFA).

The AFA provision will allow SCW to work with landowners, businesses, communities, and local NRCS experts to develop innovative conservation finance approaches to protecting the watershed. These include a new landowner carbon offset program and
partnering with downstream businesses that rely on clean water for high-quality products and the well-being of their employees.

“Through these projects, partners are able to take the lead and leverage the flexibilities that make RCPP so effective,” said Benjamin Naumann, assistant state conservationist for NRCS in Maine. “Partners are delivering conservation in new and innovative ways,
and by working together we can harness our collective resources to produce greater results for conservation and agriculture.”

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Roberts Community Farm Project

The Trust began focused conversations about the potential use of the 1.2 acre Roberts Farmstead parcel soon after it was secured in 2010.  Experienced voices from SAD17, Alan Day Community Garden, CEBE, Norway Downtown, and the Fare Share Market were involved as well consultants who helped the Board look at the myriad of farm programs and facilities across the state and New England. Thanks to generous funding from the Betterment Fund and the Elmira B. Sewall Foundation, we commissioned Barba & Wheelock Preservation and Architecture and Richardson Associates Landscape Architects to guide us through a lengthy planning and design process. 

Our goals are to create a farmstead like campus that will accommodate the land trust’s office, fluid educational and agricultural spaces for SAD17, rental spaces to provide ongoing revenue, a multipurpose meeting space with kitchen and bathroom facilities, and parking.  In addition an outdoor pavilion and  SAD17’s Twitchell Observatory have been included in the site plan.   The Observatory was moved to the site in 2019. 

For most of the project we developed 2 parallel plans, one utilizing the 1823 Roberts Farmhouse, and the other with all new construction.  In the end, the planning committee opted to remove the historic home which was deemed too costly to rehabilitate for very limited space.   The Trust has been looking for someone to move the house to be restored on another site.    

FMI on Phase 1 of the
project, click PDF.

Crooked River
Roberts Farm

Roberts Farm to Town Trails - Updated June 2020

The Trust has a vision of connecting

the recreational assets and natural beauty

of the Preserve directly to Main Street. 

With huge community support in 2018,

we were able to purchase the last large

parcel on Pikes Hill, providing permanent

protection for a steeply sloped wooded

hill which drains into Lake Pennesseewassee

and protection for a forested gateway into

the town of Norway. The Parcel will allow us

to extend the trail system (both ski and

single-track trails) towards town with trails

that will enjoy magnificent views and subtle

to moderate grade changes.


Designed by Roberts Farm trails designer, Mike Cooper of Caribou Recreation LLC, the proposed trails will link the recreational and educational assets of the Farm (20k of trails, warming hut, observatory, modular classrooms), directly to downtown Norway. In the first phase of construction, we are proposing 3k of Nordic ski and snowshoe trails on the new 47-acre parcel. The trails will follow the terrain contours and will be gently flowing- perfect for teaching skate or classic skiing. We will expand our mountain bike/snowshoe trail onto the new parcel that commands an iconic view of Norway Lake and the mountains. In 2020, a 1k trail traversing 4 privately-owned parcels with trail easements will link the new trails and Roberts Farm to a trailhead on Water Street.

To maintain the enthusiasm and momentum of our fall 2018 Roberts Farm Extension purchase, we will build the phase I trails in time for the winter 2019/2020 season. In addition to private fundraising and grants, we are currently designing a crowd-based donation platform. Once completed, the farm-to-town trail will transform Norway into a skiable/hike-able community. These trails will provide recreational benefits to our local schools, community, and health care providers, and will support Main Street’s economic revitalization. 

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Click map to enlarge view of the F2T Phase 3


Crooked River Watershed Initiative

The Crooked River is 50 miles in length, flowing from Songo Pond in Bethel through

Albany, Waterford, Norway, Otisfield, Harrison, Casco and Naples, where it joins the

Songo River before flowing into Sebago Lake. The Crooked River watershed, which

is part of the larger Presumpscot River Basin, contains 76,000 acres of predominantly

forest land in a drainage area of 275 square miles.

Western Foothills Land Trust, Loon Echo Land Trust,  Greater Lovell Land Trust, and

Upper Saco Valley Land Trust, along with the Portland Water District, have been

leading an effort to increase public awareness and voluntary protection along the

Crooked River.


The Crooked River is deemed an important project for the river’s following qualities:


• The Crooked River is the largest tributary stream flowing into Sebago Lake,

providing 40% of the annual flow into the lake. Sebago Lake supports the

state’s largest water utility which services 200,000 customers in 20 communities

in the greater Portland area.


• The Crooked River supports one of only four known indigenous populations of landlocked Atlantic salmon in Maine and is the primary spawning and nursery area for such salmon indigenous to Sebago Lake.


• The river is entirely rated AA (highest water quality and free flowing).


• The Crooked (and larger Presumpscot) River watershed has been identified by the U.S. Forest Service as the most vulnerable drinking water reservoir watershed in the Northeastern 20 states due to the high percentage of unprotected, privately owned land.


Roberts Farm Preserve

Access: During the coldest days of this winter, timber framers Shawn Kane and Scott Vlaun set out to build the accessible ramp and deck for the warming hut at Roberts Farm Preserve. The design was relatively straightforward following ADA requirements, but their intuition, creativity and dedication to local (milling cedar for the frame off Elm Hill and the rail balusters from pine on site) created an iconic deck that will be remembered by all who visit the Preserve. Additional construction help was provided by Alex Miller, Rocky Crockett and Fred Garbo. Funds for the project were provided by an L.L. Bean Maine Land Trust Grant and proceeds from the 2012 Norway Triathlon.


Trails: During the course of 2012 we repaired trails and added additional culverts and ditches. Thanks to President Bob Van Nest and many generous donors the Trust acquired its own all-season utility vehicle that can assist with summer trail maintenance as well as groom and track the ski trails. A volunteer cadre of Rhino operators allowed us to groom and track trails on a nearly daily basis when conditions allowed. Freshly groomed trails made a huge difference for all users, elevating the skiing experience to a professional level. Our thanks to Scott Berk, Carl Costanzi, Fred Garbo, Dave Greenleaf, Alex Miller, and Bob Van Nest.


Forest Management: The Trust has been thwarted by wet unfrozen conditions for several winters in our plans for a harvest at Roberts Preserve. Finally this winter conditions were right. Following our Forest Management Plan, a timber stand improvement project on the southern portion of Roberts Farm Preserve has been completed. Conscious of the trail system, our logger did his best to avoid impacting the snowshoe trail and to reduce crossings of the ski trail. The work has provided the Trust with needed funds and has created the possibility of an additional kilometer of ski trail along the project's twitch trail.


Equipment: SAD 17's PEP grant supplied 60 pairs of Nordic skis, boots, and poles and as many or more pairs of snowshoes. Our hut's closet and shed walls were filled with equipment for use by the school community. Weekdays the STEM Ed program, afterschool ski and snowshoe programs, homeschoolers, and independent school groups used the equipment. On weekends volunteers staffed the hut 11–3 so that families could come and enjoy the trails together. Our thanks to OHCHS seniors Allysa Andrews and Abby Bernier for responsibly managing the Paris Elementary after school ski program. Thanks also to Jill Gabrielsen, Sara Le Duc, Sheila and Cleon Morse, Cindy Mingle, and the Hodgkin family for staffing the hut so that families could access equipment and warm up après ski.

Moon Valley Parcel
Moon Valley Wetlands

Moon Valley Parcel in Harrison

With support from the Maine Natural Resource Conservation Program (, the Trust purchased a 14 acre retired sand pit parcel known as Moon Valley in February. Partnering with Boyle Associates, an environmental consulting firm, the Trust aims to create and enhance a variety of natural functions on the retired sand pit parcel. The Moon Valley parcel, located south of 117 in Harrison, includes 390 feet of Crooked River frontage. The Crooked River Watershed has been a conservation focus of the Trust for several years in recognition of the river's role as a significant fishery and drinking water resource. The second phase of the project will involve creation of 2.7 acres of freshwater wetlands, enhancing 1.4 acres of emergent wetlands and up-land buffer, and enhancing a 4.9 acre buffer. The wetlands work including earthwork, soil enhancement, and planting will be undertaken in late summer, early fall. A walking/snowshoe trail will be included in the design for the parcel. We hope to involve Harrison grade-schoolers in the design, creation, and stewardship of the trail. The Trust looks forward to meeting with its Moon Valley neighbors before the project is underway.

Paris Hill
Green Sap Buckets

Moon Valley Wetlands Enhancement

In 2013, the Western Foothills Land Trust was awarded funding by the Maine Natural Resource Conservation Program to purchase a 14-acre retired sand pit known as Moon Valley with frontage on the Crooked River. Additional funds were provided by the Clean Water Carbon Fund and the Casco Bay Estuary Partnership.


Last spring, New England Organics supplied organic mill plume from the Jay mill, and RJ Grondin and Sons completed the earth work with the objective of creating a base that would retain water to support wetlands plant species already on site and to be added. Now there are three perennial pools and an expanded wetlands base.


This summer, volunteers spread a variety of specialty wetlands grass seed and straw mulch across the site and undertook the planting of 1800 bare root trees selected for their adaptation to wetland environments and high survivability in stress situations. Homeschoolers and their parents helped along with an OHCHS biology class with assistance from land trust volunteers. Ethel Wilkerson from Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences and the Clean Water Carbon Fund, which had provided funding for the tree stock as part of its mission to protect a forested watersheds in Maine, provided essential tree-planting knowledge.


As trees were being planted, volunteers were serenaded by a Parula warbler, bullfrogs, and entertained by a mallard family that has adopted the new pond. A scarlet tangier was spotted recently along the site’s edge habitat.


Searle Excavation placed boulders to protect the entrance of the conservation site and to allow recreational access to the existing trails along the Crooked River. While the young trees root and grasses stabilize, and before a walking trail is defined, the site will be closed to visitors.

Your support of Western Foothills Land Trust supports projects like Moon Valley.


Upcoming Paris Hill Conservation Easement

Working with Jon and Carla Magoon, the Trust is nearing the completion of a conservation easement donation to protect 154 acres of woodlands and agricultural fields on Paris Hill. The easement document has been drafted, the land survey has been completed, and the baseline documentation is underway. The land, portions of which were approved for a mid nineteenth century subdivision development has a rich social history as well as significant natural resources.


Green Sap Buckets and Blue Lines Replace Wartime Oil Cans and Gutters

Roberts Farm Preserve sugar maples were tapped for the first time in approximately 60 years by SAD 17 students in the spring of 2013. Sap was hand-carried off site and boiled down at a nearby sugar shack providing a full complement of place-based math and science lessons. Plans are being discussed to build a sap house on site in the context of an autumn timber frame building workshop.



"Focused in the Oxford Hills, River Valley, and Bethel areas, Maine West advances its mission through network-based, collaborative approaches that: build relationships and social capital across all elements of the  community; advance tangible, multi-sector projects to deliver near-term benefits to people, communities, and the environment; and build the capacity of partners and other area stakeholders to attract resources and implement projects that address persistent challenges and enhance long-term community well-being.” 

Thanks to the GIS acumen of The Trust for Public Lands, a Maine West collaborator, a regional conservation viewer tool has been developed to assist Maine West partners (including WFLT) with strategic community conservation planning. The viewer can isolate or layer recreational lands and access, contiguous open or protected lands, farms, working forests, schools, community hubs, and other identified priorities. This tool is what WFLT  has long wished for. Thank you to Maine West!  



Clean drinking water and forest conservation in the Sebago Lake watershed received a boost with a $350,000 grant from the Healthy Watersheds Consortium Grant Program. The grant will help launch a partnership effort to conserve land that feeds and filters Maine’s largest drinking water supply. The Sebago Lake Watershed provides recreational opportunities, supports local economies, and conserves fish and wildlife habitat and working lands.  Called Sebago Clean Waters, the partnership includes Loon Echo Land Trust, Western Foothills Land Trust, Casco Bay Estuary Partnership, Portland Water District, Open Space Institute, The Nature Conservancy, Trust for Public Land, and the Highstead Foundation.

Sebago Lake provides drinking water to 200,000+ users in the Greater Portland area. The region’s forests filter water to produce clean drinking water, support local wood products businesses and offer wide-ranging recreational opportunities like swimming, hiking, and fishing. Much of the forest is privately owned and is experiencing creeping development pressure. Abundant forests and cold-water lakes and streams in the Sebago Lake watershed provide myriad benefits to Mainers and visitors alike. With only 10% of the 282,000-acre region conserved, the U.S. Forest Service identified the Sebago watershed as the most vulnerable watershed in the Northeast for drinking water. “Naturally clean water flows downhill from the forested watershed to customers’ taps,” said Paul Hunt, environmental manager for the Portland Water District. “We want to create a way for downstream water users to contribute to the conservation of those critical upstream forests.”  


Sebago Clean Waters’ mission is to protect water quality, community well-being, a vibrant economy, and the health of fish and wildlife in the Sebago watershed through voluntary forestland conservation. These forests create, filter, and sustain this area’s exceptionally pure water supply.


SCW's goals are to:


1) to conserve an additional 35,000 acres of land in the Sebago watershed (to conserve 25% of the land area) in the next 15 years; and


2) to build a $15M Water Fund from new funding sources to support this conservation work.

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WFLT received funding from the Recreational Trails Program, a funding program of the Federal Highway Administration, for the Witt’s End Loop Trail. The Trust protects a 272-acre contiguous landscape from Shepard’s Farm Preserve on Crockett Ridge Road to Witt Swamp Preserve on Pleasant Street in Norway. Currently, there is a ½ mile universally accessible trail at Shepards Farm and 3 miles of mountain bike trails extending from Shepard’s Farm to Pleasant Street on the uplands surrounding Witt Swamp. The loop trail will be a 1/2mile multi-use trail which will connect the western portion of the Witt’s End Trail to the trailhead on Pleasant Street forming a 1.5 mile loop that creates a shortcut to Pleasant Street. 

One of the earliest recorded roads in Norway, the Witt Cart Road is a raised bed road which runs east-west across the northern portion of the Witt Swamp wetlands. Historically the cart road transected land belonging to the Witt family and was the shortest way to town for any of the farms on Crockett Ridge Road before the construction of the causeway to Crockett Ridge.  In more recent times the snowmobile club has used the road and tried to maintain with decreasing degrees of success, a bridge across Bog Brook. When a crossing was available, residents along Crockett Ridge have enjoyed walking, snowshoeing and skiing the old cart road which provides an intimate perspective on the surrounding wetlands.

Due to the site’s wetlands, the Trust has been in communication for several years with the Maine DEP working towards a trail design that best reduced impact to the hydrological and biological systems. Trail designer Mike Cooper has developed a 4 foot-wide low boardwalk design that allows light penetration for plants.  The new design is slightly more expensive than the original grant-funded design, so $5,000 of additional funds are being sought. The RTP award, administered by the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry, is for $28,135.

As soon as all environmental permits have been approved, the Trust will begin opening the corridor by hand in preparation for trail construction. Volunteers will be needed!  Anyone interested should contact the Trust.

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