Thinking Big

At a height of just over a thousand feet, the peak of Great Pond Mountain rises above Alamoosook Lake in Orland, Maine. This impressive landmark and its surrounding Wildlands occupy a special place in the hearts of one philanthropic family dedicated to conserving Maine’s natural treasures. This landscape-scale conservation vision was realized in large part because of the family’s shift in thinking…to “thinking big.”
 
The family helped preserve 4,300 acres of the Wildlands around the mountain with a $1-million loan to the Great Pond Mountain Conservation Trust and donated $1.4 million in 2005. Their ambitious plans continued last year with a $200,000 loan to the trust to secure commitments from landowners for critical trail sections near the mountain.

A subsequent $375,000 challenge grant led to the purchase of two more sections of the Wildlands and 200 acres atop the mountain—and creation of a long-term stewardship fund that will ensure future protection of the properties. “Joy on Great Pond Mountain” read the Bucksport Enterprise headline that announced the successful “To the Summit!” campaign in February 2014.
 
When the donor anonymously established the Ram Island Conservation Fund at the Maine Community Foundation in 2009, he and other family advisors continued to explore bold and creative thinking about their philanthropy and its influence on conservation. To them, sustainable is more than a catchword: it means preserving the future.

The family looks for projects that have strong grassroots support. “We wouldn’t be anywhere near where we are now if we had had to do it ourselves,” said one advisor, who views the Ram Island Conservation Fund as a partnership with the community foundation.

The fund advisors continue to expand the scope of their conservation efforts, most recently to Maine’s farms. In 2013, they granted $1 million toward the Maine Farmland Trust’s goal of protecting 100,000 acres of Maine farmland. That initial gift leveraged $1 million in gifts from other donors and will preserve 17 farms in eight counties—nearly 2,500 acres permanently protected as working farmland.

The family has been so pleased with the impact of its grant that they renewed their commitment to Maine Farmland Trust in 2014 to continue its farmland preservation work. Said one advisor, “This [investment] is about moving Maine’s agriculture system into a long-term sustainable model.”

The family feels fortunate to have the resources to commit substantial funds toward a single goal, be it the Wildlands or Maine Farmland Trust. High impact is a primary goal for all of its grantmaking.

While preservation of special places is the guiding principle for this family’s philanthropy, they have another motive: to inspire. “We hope our efforts to preserve forests and farms will encourage others to be innovative in their philanthropy,” said a family member, “and help preserve Maine for the long term.”

Photo: Thanks to Ram Island’s support of the Maine Farmland Trust’s Buy/Protect/Sell program, David Asmussen, Meredith Eilers, and their daughter, Eleanor, were able to move to Blue Bell Farm in Bowdoinham in March 2014. The 74-acre farm grows mixed vegetables. Photo courtesy Maine Farmland Trust