SHELBURNE — Once considered one of the 10 dirtiest rivers in America, the Androscoggin River is on a sustained rebound and conservation groups are working here to preserve a large stretch of it for “quiet recreation.”

Calling it “a rare opportunity to forever protect an undeveloped and scenic landscape,” the Mahoosuc Land Trust, which is based in Bethel, Maine, and The Conservation Fund, recently announced the Shelburne Riverlands Project, which seeks to raise $1 million to purchase 853 acres of land from Bayroot LLC.

The Riverlands, according to the land trust, includes 22 islands and 12 mainland parcels located along an 8.7-mile stretch of the Androscoggin from just east of Gorham to Gilead, Maine.

The Riverlands, said Katie Stuart, who chairs the Shelburne Conservation Commission, will protect approximately 50% of the town’s floodplain wetlands. It will also link two existing easements on the river, she said, as well as Maine’s Mahoosuc Range and the White Mountain National Forest.

“I am so thrilled, I am so excited” that the Riverlands project is moving forward Stuart said as she paddled along the Androscoggin with her dog, Mica, and friends Ginger Lawson and Larry Ely.

Stuart and Ely are members of the Mahoosuc Land Trust’s Board of Directors, while Lawson is a former member and the lead Riverlands fundraiser.

Lawson said the Riverlands is the land trust’s largest riverfront conservation effort and a true “community” project. The purchase, which the land trust hopes to close on sometime next spring, will be funded entirely by grants and donations, said Ely, with the Town of Shelburne incurring no costs.

Paddlers and anglers already love the places that make up the Riverlands, said Lawson, who added it would be “a nice addition to a small town” and ideal for “quiet recreation.”

Stuart said Shelburne has explored the opportunity to form a town forest, but never acted.

Earlier this year, however, Bayroot approached The Conservation Fund about selling the parcels that would become the Riverlands, she said, and in turn the Conservation Fund approached the Shelburne Conservation Commission and the land trust about buying it.

The project received the blessing of both the Conservation Commission and the Shelburne Board of Selectmen in March, Stuart said.

The Riverlands will be managed by a plan developed by the land trust, Shelburne citizens and others, and will be owned by the land trust. As under Bayroot, the land will remain open to the public.

Lawson pointed out that in the early 1970s, the Androscoggin, which rises in Errol and joins the Kennebec River in Maine before eventually emptying into the Atlantic Ocean, had become heavily polluted, primarily by discharge from paper mills in Berlin and Gorham, as well as in Maine. Its condition prompted Maine Sen. Edmund Muskie to introduce what became the Clean Water Act.

Now significantly cleaner, the threat to the river is from development, said Stuart, something that the Riverlands project will curtail in Shelburne.

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