Influential Loon Echo Land Trust executive director to resign

Carrie Walia will be leaving her position as executive director of the Loon Echo Land Trust this summer, when she moves with her husband and young son back to her home state of Wisconsin.

During her tenure, Loon Echo officials say, the land trust expanded exponentially both in influence and land acquisitions. Walia, who has worked for the land trust since 2004 and has been executive director since 2008, has nearly doubled the amount of land the trust protects since she became executive director.

In 2008, the trust oversaw 3,700 acres of protected land in the Lakes Region. Walia said the trust will soon hold 6,600 acres when it closes on the Raymond Community Forest, a 400-acre plot that she said will be her last project to complete as executive director.

Walia said with the support of the trust’s board of directors, she set the goal “to accelerate the pace and quality of lands conserved in a short time, and with that big goal in mind, tried to direct a lot of energy in that area.”

Walia has also worked to develop the Lake Region Greenprint, a strategic plan based on local and regional priorities designed to meet goals for open space and conservation in seven communities. Walia said the plan provided a starting point for approaching conservation opportunities, and “helped us understand the communities better.”

“Denmark and Raymond, especially, had a vision, and needed a partner to help them,” Walia said.

The trust worked with the town of Denmark on its community forests, a 1,600-acre project, and is working with the Raymond community to help preserve 400 acres of forest.

Walia said one of her proudest accomplishments was the Hacker’s Hill project off Quaker Ridge Road in Casco.

“It was one of our smallest for size, but it really offers such a great deal to the community,” Walia said.

She said the project was one of the trust’s goals when it was founded, and “being able to bring it to fruition was really exciting.”

Hacker’s Hill, a 27-acre park in Casco, was bought by the trust in 2012 from the Hall family. The property has panoramic views of the White Mountains and Lakes Region, and is open to walking, nature observation and hunting by permission.

Walia said the property is small, “but offers the most educational programming we do in the summer. It’s an awesome place to host programs because it’s open and inviting.”

Jeff Hall said Hacker’s Hill had been in his family since the mid-1950s. Hall and his father had maintained and landscaped the park for years, but it was difficult to keep up with all the work.

Hall said since the property had been in the family for so long, the thought of losing it for the public was upsetting.

“That’s why Loon Echo was a perfect fit,” Hall said, “because the goal was to keep it as a community park.”

Hall said Walia was good to work with.

“She works really hard at trying to find partners to raise money to make these projects happen,” he said. “Her specialty is drawing concerned citizens together.”

Walia said her favorite part of the work is “getting to work with a broad group of other organizations, from landowners and neighborhood land trusts to national conservation groups. There’s exposure to so many viewpoints and interests.”

Eric Dibner, who has worked with the land trust since it was established in 1987, first as a volunteer and then as a director, said the organization started with about 12 people participating as volunteers. Since then, the organization, which now has an office in Bridgton, has taken on four permanent staff members and its program has grown considerably.

“Carrie’s very organized, and she’s focused on the steps necessary to make a project happen,” Dibner said. “She’s very personable, able to nurture people who are interested in coming into the organization and help find their interests and how they can contribute in the most effective way.”

John Evans, who has been the stewardship manager of the trust since 2008, said Walia is “quick to compliment, but not afraid to set me straight if I’m wandering a little bit.”

“Even though she’s considerably younger than me, she’s been a great influence professionally. Whoever takes her place is going to have big shoes to fill,” he said.

Walia said she feels the trust and conservation groups “have a big weight to carry to try to satisfy the question of: 100 years from now, what will people need to feel there’s enough forests for food and fiber and a peaceful place to go?

“We’re fulfilling a really big need, setting aside permanent portions of the landscape for conservation,” Walia said. “I never want to come across as being against development, I just want to make sure there’s enough land preserved.”

The trust plans to hire a new executive director in the next month or two, so Walia can work with her replacement for a few months. She said she would tell the new hire “not to get bogged down with day-to-day administrative burdens. Try to rise above and work with as many landowners out there as possible.”

Walia is planning to move back to Wisconsin, which she left 12 years ago to come to Maine.

“I never expected to stay here so long but the job was so great, and the board was so great,” she said.

Walia said she made the decision with her family to “move back and explore the woods in Wisconsin and Lake Superior and see what life brings.”

Carrie Walia stands on the Dunning Bridge over Stevens Brook at Pondicherry Park in Bridgton, part of 66 acres under conservation easement with Loon Echo Land Trust. Walia, the trust’s executive director, is leaving this summer.