Multiple-Use Management and Corridor Sharing


Debsconeag Lakes Wilderness Area - Maine

New bridge construction on the trail system

The Recreational Trails Program has made it possible to improve the existing trail system and add a new trail to the Ice Caves.

Nestled in the shadow of Mount Katahdin, just south of Maine’s Baxter State Park, The Nature Conservancy’s Debsconeag Lakes Wilderness Area (DLWA) is a 46,271-acre ecological reserve that welcomes multiple recreational uses. The Nature Conservancy purchased the DLWA in 2002 as part of the nationally recognized Katahdin Forest Project.

It provides a vital link in nearly 500,000 acres of contiguous conservation land (connecting Baxter State Park, the Allagash Wilderness Waterway, Maine’s Nahmakanta Reserve, and the Conservancy’s Trout Mountain Preserve). The land encompasses a 15-mile portion of the “Hundred Mile Wilderness” section of the Appalachian Trail adjacent to Baxter State Park.

Debsconeag means “carrying place,” named by native Micmac Indians for the portage sites where birch bark canoes were carried around rapids and waterfalls. The DLWA contains the highest concentration of pristine, remote ponds in New England. It holds thousands of acres of mature forests, some of which have not been harvested in 70 to 100 years, or even more. These lands have a long history and great variety of recreational uses and today hiking, camping, canoeing, hunting, fishing, and snowmobiling on authorized trails are all welcome on this preserve.

Crew working at Debsconeag Lakes

Crew working at Debsconeag Lakes

Prior to the Conservancy’s ownership, the DLWA included dozens of miles of established traditional foot trails that were etched in place decades or even centuries ago. These trails were often made by the feet of thousands of individuals – but with little benefit of modern trail planning and construction techniques. As a result, trails tended to proceed in a straight line to the destination of interest (often straight up steep slopes or through wet ground) with little accommodation for environmental protection or the comfort of the hiker.

Out of necessity, snowmobile trails proceeded through boulder fields and grooming was difficult, restricting the length of the sledding season. The Recreational Trails Program has made it possible to improve the existing trail system and even add a new trail to the previously inaccessible but popular “Ice Caves,” which allow hikers to descend and find remnants of winter well into the summer.

Snowmobile trails at the Debsconeag Lakes site

Snowmobile trails at the Debsconeag Lakes site

More winners of this award

2023: Prospectors Loop Trails

2021: Doty Bridge Replacement

2020: Pine Street Woods

2019: Mount Emily Recreation Area – Oregon

2018: Wildcat Rock Trail - North Carolina

2018: Brule River Bridge - Wisconsin

2017: Middle Fork National Recreation Trail Improvements - Oregon

2016: Dolan Springs Trail - Arizona

2015: Boardman Bridge - Idaho

2014: Discovery Hill Community Trails - Idaho

2014: Yellow Creek Bridge Project - Pennsylvania

2013: Longleaf Trace Equestrian Trail Improvements and Extension - Mississippi

2012: Kwolh Butte Shelter - Oregon

2011: White River Valley Trail - Missouri

2009: Meduxnekeag River Bridge - Maine

2008: Boundary Canal Trail (Phases I and II) - Florida

2007: Wild Rivers State Trail - Wisconsin

2006: Lake Russell Multiple-Use Trail - Georgia

2005: Johnson Camp Trail Project - California

2004: Minooka Off-Highway Vehicle Park - Alabama

2003: Morrison Trail Project - Montana