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Whitney Community Forest in Ellsworth Now Permanent Community Green Space

February 12, 2024

Frenchman Bay Conservancy closed on the 405-acre Whitney Community Forest adjacent to the Ellsworth High School. The property is the largest remaining tract of undeveloped woodlands within walking distance from downtown Ellsworth, and already features an informal trail system used by the local community.

In addition to the Whitney Community Forest, FBC also closed on an additional 62-acre parcel adjacent to the new Community Forest, increasing it to 467 conserved acres. Of that total, 35 acres are reserved for development.

ELLSWORTH, ME— Frenchman Bay Conservancy (FBC) closed on the purchase of the Whitney Community Forest in downtown Ellsworth. The 405-acre property, located within one mile of downtown Ellsworth, currently features an informal trail network that’s been used by the local community for generations, including as cross-country race trails. By conserving the forest, an adjacent 55-acre property, FBC is able to protect this historic property as an official preserve, and maintain public access for walking, biking, cross-country skiing, and outdoor education for Ellsworth High School students.

The project is part of FBC’s commitment to community conservation in Ellsworth and the Union River watershed.

In this region, we prioritize collaborative community projects that help to establish greenways to increase walkability, restore urban tree canopy cover, and promote public access to nature and green spaces,” shared Kat Deely, FBC Land Protection Staff. “Conserving the Whitney Community Forest is not only an incredible opportunity to protect habitat within the city’s urban zone, but also an important opportunity to ensure Ellsworth continues to be a place where people want to live, do business, and recreate outdoors.

The Ellsworth Rail Trail borders the new Whitney Community Forest, providing access to the preserve’s trail system.

The property was sold by Stewart Whitney, the son of Dr. Richard Whitney who originally protected and managed the forest. Dr. Whitney was a dentist in Ellsworth for 44 years, and a central part of the community.  

In talking with Stewart about the decision to conserve the land, he shared, “My dad was very connected to this land and also civic-minded, so it just made sense to work with FBC to keep it natural and accessible to the community. Conservation and recreation are very important to me as they were to my dad, so I’m happy FBC is helping to connect the community of Ellsworth with green space.”

FBC has a long history of working with the City of Ellsworth to protect natural lands while promoting community investment, and this project is no exception. Of the 405 acres, 35 acres adjacent to Lejok Street will be available for the City of Ellsworth to develop into future residential housing or other community benefit. One option is that it could become the location of a new Hancock County Technical Center campus.

Part of FBC’s vision is that strategic land conservation projects such as this should not impede economic growth, but instead, enhance quality of life for residents and attract new visitors. Additional examples of FBC community conservation projects are the Urban Tree Nursery at FBC’s Jordan Homestead Preserve, and our partnership with the City to protect additional forest around Branch Lake, the City’s drinking water source. 

Community support for this project includes Ellsworth’s State Representative, Ellsworth’s former State Senator, the Ellsworth High School Principal, the Ellsworth City Manager, Heart of Ellsworth, Ellsworth Garden Club, and other local business and community partners. 

Fundraising for this property started in 2022 with a grant award from the Land for Maine’s Future (LMF) Program. The LMF Program is the State of Maine’s primary resource for funding conservation projects that provide natural and recreational value. In 2022, the Whitney Forest was one of 25 accepted projects. In 2023, the U.S. Forest Service awarded FBC a nationally-competitive grant through their Community Forest Program in support of the Whitney Forest property. The $293,000 grant was one of 13 selected projects nationwide. Additional financial partners include the Ram Island Fund of Maine Community Foundation, Maine Community Foundation, John Sage Foundation, and the Anahata Foundation.

For questions or further information, please contact FBC Executive Director Aaron Dority, aaron@frenchmanbay.org; (207) 422-2328.

In the News:

Conservancy closes on purchase of Whitney Forest (Ellsworth American)