WILLIMANTIC — A favorite spot to watch salmon leap into the air over falls to reach their spawning grounds will be forever protected for public access thanks to a private landowner and those who purchased Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund lottery tickets.
The state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife purchased 4.7 acres next to Earley’s Landing Falls in Willimantic from the Packard family, which has owned the property for more than 100 years. The triangular parcel connects Route 150 to Wilson Stream, which connects with the northern end of Sebec Lake.
“The sale was a group effort with IF&W providing $45,580 through a grant from the Outdoor Heritage Fund, the Packards donating $13,000 of the market value of the property, and the Maine Coast Heritage Trust providing administrative help,” according to Bonny Rodden, press coordinator for the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund.
Jerry Packard, who owns Packard’s Sporting Camps and the property, said the falls is a popular fishing spot, as well as a viewing spot for the salmon run. “I just wanted to protect it,” he said Tuesday.
“We’ve always allowed the public to use our land, but our concern was that if something happened to me or if the IRS got involved, my children would have to sell to keep the government away,” he said. “In order to make sure that it would always be protected, this is the only way we could do it.”
Besides providing an appealing spot for picnickers and fishermen, the purchase will help the IF&W manage the wild landlocked salmon fishery in the lake, according to Rodden.
It also adds another protected property to the string of parcels dedicated to conservation and public recreation along the lake, including the prime 25-acre property recently acquired by the town of Bowerbank with the help of a private foundation, she said.
The Outdoor Heritage Fund was established by the Legislature two years ago to finance state and local natural resource conservation projects. The program is funded solely through the sale of special instant Maine Lottery tickets depicting Maine’s heritage — the moose, loon, eagle and currently, the West Quoddy Lighthouse, Rodden said.
To date, the Outdoor Heritage Fund has awarded $2 million of grants to 64 projects, according to Rodden.