Public Loses Access at Moosehead's Mountain View Pond
Squaw Mt. Operator At Odds With LURC and Outward Bound Landowner Over Boat Launch
by Suzanne AuClair
Just opposite Moosehead Lake on Route 15 looking west is one of Maine's prettiest Great Ponds. It's a 550-acre beauty, nestled into the surrounding Big Squaw Mountain range. On the map it goes by the name of Mountain View Pond. Locals call it simply the old Fitzgerald place.
For generations, it has been a quiet place where local folks and seasonal residents have come to pass an afternoon. Fishing buddies might haul a canoe in to try for a brook trout. Birdwatchers come to it with binoculars. Kids who've grown up in the area know it as a good swimming hole. A family may show up with a picnic lunch and spread out under one of the great pines. In short, Mountain View Pond is one of those unassuming little perches, not too far off the beaten track, but well known just the same, with a long history stretching back to the heyday of the logging days at Moosehead Lake.
For more than a century, people have been able to pass in a sort of unofficial right-of-way over private land. No more. Under an agreement with the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Commissioner Lee Perry, the pond is currently slated to go under the control of private businessman James Confalone, owner of Big Squaw Mountain Resort, Inc.
In 1997 IF&W purchased two acres of land at Mountain View Pond for the purpose of creating an official public access to the Great Pond. The access route is directly off the main travel road from Greenville to Rockwood and would usher the public a short distance to the water. There would be a carry-in boat launch site from a small gravel parking area.
That plan, however, was put on hold. Four years ago when Confalone heard about the state's purchase, he asked IF&W not to "willfully allow public access." Then when the Miami businessman learned that in Maine the public owns all Great Ponds over 10 acres, he offered a deal to the state in which he would create a limited, conditional public access site on land he is expected to own in a couple of years, if the state gave up its plan.
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Meantime, Confalone has been exercising an option to buy the rest of the land surrounding Mountain View Pond. In an interview last fall about Mountain View, the businessman said part of his long range plans include the landing of his seaplanes on the pond, where guests could then be ferried by bus up the mountain to the hotel. Other plans include the development of a beach area, canoeing and sailing, and a possible petting zoo at the old Fitzgerald Farm, as well as hiking and riding trails.
In a May 1998 letter to Governor Angus King he outlined that his ski business would go under if public access were developed by the state because his investors insisted he have control of the pond.
In a reply letter the following month, the governor explained to Confalone that the state's purchase of the two-acre parcel was "part of an ongoing department program, begun in 1994, to expand and diversify fishing opportunities to both residents and visitors of the Moosehead Lake region." The governor went on to say that though a tentative agreement had been reached after months of negotiating, it seemed the businessman's investors "find even reasonable and supervised public access to Mountain View Pond to be unacceptable." King states, "Basically, your current position is that you want the State of Maine to relinquish any right to provide improved public access to the pond. This is simply not an acceptable option."
The governor instructed the commissioner to work with the resort owner. Commissioner Perry agreed to put the state plan on hold. By 1998, Confalone's lawyer, Thomas Needham, suggested a limited, conditional access across private land to anglers only, with no signs on Rt. 15.
In the current agreement, Confalone agreed to the posting of a public access sign on Rt. 15. IF&W agreed to let the public access be gated, though it must remain open during daylight hours.
The public must travel significantly out of their way up the mountain to the hotel, where they are required to register at the front desk before driving down to the water.
IF&W agreed to delay its own public access plans for a period of 15 months (from June 1998). If the private businessman cannot provide public access within the identified time, the agreement reads IF&W will proceed with its plans for development.
In an interview about the access, Commissioner Perry said the state has no plans to sell or trade the public's two-acres at this time, but he did acknowledge it may consider doing so in the future should the public-private agreement go well.
Last year, Confalone struck a deal with the Hurricane Island Outward Bound School, which enabled him to cross over their leased land and have an access site built. With that done, in June 2000 the state stocked 3,400 spring yearling brook trout to establish put- and-take fishing for the public. As long as there is public access, IF&W will stock the pond with catchable trout.
To date, public access may still not cleared because of additional legal wrangling that has arisen between Confalone and Outward Bound. In this three-way arrangement, Outward Bound holds a long-term lease on the Trust land that Confalone wants to buy. The pond is also located on that land. He needs the OB land for the public access site.
Most recently, according to Maine Land Use Regulation Commission records, Squaw Resort was cited for not conforming to road improvement standards and for not securing permits for the job.
In Jan. 2001, when asked about the status of the access, Outward Bound Director Ashley Lodato said, "Due to unresolved violations with LURC and the agreement Outward Bound has with Squaw Mountain Resort, Outward Bound has terminated the right-of-way it gave to Squaw to open the fishing access."
When asked if the state was going ahead with its plans to provide public access this spring, Commissioner Perry adopted a "let's wait and see" approach. He said that while he was aware of the terminated right-of-way, Confalone's lawyer had told him he didn't think there was any real change in that agreement. Perry acknowledged, however, "there was a difference of opinion on that."
"At this point," the commissioner said, "we have no reason to believe our agreement with Squaw has changed."
Though Perry did say the state was interested in keeping public access on Mountain View Pond, he said he wasn't sure what options it would pursue. Asked what options there were, the one the commissioner pointed to was "to develop our own access."
"The only question," he said, "is how."
As the commissioner moves ahead with what he earlier called a "win-win" agreement, there are those at Moosehead and within IF&W who fear the state will, in the end, give up its direct link to the water, and easy access for the public will be cut off in the interest of the private business.
Meantime, the state holds a simple plan for a short public access route directly off the main road. All it needs is the green light from the commissioner. The state land cuts through no one else's property; it's close to the road; it hinders no abutters. And, most importantly, it guarantees unfettered access into perpetuity.
Suzanne Auclair is a freelance writer and resident of the Greenville area.
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