Donna M. Perry: Face Time: Readfield outdoorsman leads the High Peaks Alliance

·4 min read

Aug. 14—READFIELD — Brent West grew up in New Portland in Somerset County hunting, fishing and exploring the high peaks of Maine.

The experiences led him to a career in wildlife ecology. After college, he worked across North America for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conducting surveys that informed federal hunting laws. While working for the service in Maryland he earned his master's degree developing a model to estimate North America's woodcock population, according to West.

"Seeing the speed of development and demand for precious little open space in the Mid-Atlantic," West moved home to start a family.

Before joining the High Peaks Alliance in 2020 as their full-time executive director, he managed thousands of acres for the Georges River Land Trust. He had done some consulting work for the alliance prior to being named executive director, he said.

After spending five years in Maryland, I realized how precious access to woods and waters are. In Maryland, you have to have written permission to access any private land, making access nearly impossible and forcing a large population to recreate on small public lands. That experience, coupled with our board member's passion for ensuring access to the areas I grew up exploring, made me want to get involved.

This work is a lifestyle which doesn't stop during evenings or weekends because it is my job to build an organization for those who want to keep this area open and accessible. Our mission is to ensure and enhance public access and recreational opportunities in Maine's High Peaks. Our vision is for increased public access to multiple-use recreational opportunities, conserved landscapes, a bolstered regional economy and a platform for community partnerships. I develop projects that have been identified from our members and board to maintain and expand public access for recreation. Recently, we helped conserve Shiloh Pond for the Town of Kingfield. This involved identifying the Trust for Public Land as a partner, raising $550,000 and leading a long public process. The result was Shiloh Pond being conserved with management by a town committee.

We also purchased properties that we hold in trust. This February, we purchased 80 acres along the Perham Stream in Madrid (Township), which has great views of Saddleback and Mt. Abraham. Another recent project was to build Franklin County's first accessible trail in partnership with (the University of Maine at Farmington).

Our largest current project is the Farmington Bridge Project to rebuild a multi-use bridge over the Sandy River to connect downtown Farmington to the 14-mile long Whistle Stop Trail. Our partner for this project is the Bureau of Parks and Lands, which will be the long-term owner of the bridge. An economic study indicates this bridge will contribute $1.5 million during the construction phase to the local economy with 25 construction-related jobs. The long-term increase in visitor spending is $861,000, with an additional $103,000 in tax revenue and 13 new or retained jobs. This 336-foot-long bridge will cost $2.8 million dollars. We have secured over $700,000 in support and have a federal funding request put forth by (U.S.) Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, and (U.S. Rep. Jared) Golden.

I always say the best part of living up here is that you never have to plan what to do, because you just move to the next seasonal tradition. In the summer it is hiking, mushroom picking, gardening and swimming. Next is hunting season, foliage and fairs. Winter is snowmobiles, skiing and bonfires. Finally, spring is turkey season, fiddleheads and brook trout!

I get satisfaction from watching other people enjoy the projects we assist with. For instance, when we had a ribbon cutting for the new accessible trail in Farmington, a lady from Work First (Inc.) came up to me to thank us. Their clients have to sign out where they are going for field trips, and apparently the new trail already filled up the ledger. In Kingfield, community members who have loved the Shiloh for years now give back by serving on the committee. These stories make me keep looking for the next project.