Acadia National Park is one of the few national parks created virtually entirely of land donated to the federal government. This local approach to the park's founding and the laws that created the park lead to a complex patchwork of park lands across Mount Desert Island, the Schoodic Penninsula, Isle au Haut, and other outer islands. We work with adjacent landowners and neighboring towns to continually manage park boundaries. In addition, Congress gave the National Park Service the responsibility to hold conservation easements on private property within the Acadian archipelago. The park's lands program is charged with keeping records of these properties, marking and monitoring park boundaries, and working together with interested landowners to protect the ecological, cultural, and scenic values of their holdings.
The National Park Service at Acadia National Park currently holds conservation easements on 184 properties in 18 towns. All easements but one are on islands. These conservation easements protect more than 12,000 acres of land. Ongoing activities include:
Why Conservation Easements?Legislation in 1986 established two boundaries for the park. One boundary contains the land that Acadia owns (almost 38,000 acres) or could someday own; lands within this boundary are known as fee lands and are what shows up on the park map. The other boundary is larger and identifies the area within which land can be protected through conservation easements.
Conservation Easements are legal agreements between a property owner and some agency, whether a nonprofit or a government agency like the NPS. The agreement allows a property owner to protect his/her land forever. It is something that land owners enter into voluntarily, so it’s customized to provide whatever protection that property owner is willing to give to the property. Often easements limit development on the land, but that is not necessarily the case. In some instances, an owner may use an easement to designate access to the land or to protect specific resources, like a cultural site or a watershed. Conservation easements are permanently attached to the deed, so when a landowner enters into one, he or she is not only choosing to be a good steward while he/she owns the land, but ensuring that the land is offered the same protection into the future.
Conservation easements are very important to the visitor experience here in Acadia. When a visitor stands on the top of Cadillac Mountain and looks out across the landscape, they are not just looking at Acadia; they’re looking at a combination of public and private lands, with all different levels of protection. Conservation easements are what protect much of that land in a wild-looking state, so when a visitor looks out across the landscape, he or she sees forest covered islands, not summer homes and businesses. Acadia protects roughly 50,000 acres of land, but about 12,500 of those acres are not actually owned by the park, but rather by one of over 200 private owners who decided they want to be a part of Acadia’s conservation legacy.
Within the fee boundary of the park, there are about 750 acres of privately held land known as inholdings. Owners of inholding properties can own those properties indefinitely, but the development of the properties is limited relative to what was on the property at the cut-off date in 1985. Any property that was undeveloped at the time of the cut-off must stay that way; properties with structures may be modified, but cannot be expanded by more than 25%. The park has the option of acquiring these properties in the future if the owner wishes to sell or donate the land to the park or to another organization to be donated to the park. Many other inholdings are already owned by conservation organizations (i.e. Maine Coast Heritage Trust or Nature Conservancy), who hold the deed but intend to keep the property undeveloped.
Last updated: May 26, 2022