READFIELD – Brent West grew up in New Portland, 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 US Fish and Wildlife Service conducting investigations that informed federal hunting laws. While working for the service in Maryland, he earned his master’s degree developing a model to estimate the North American woodcock population, according to West.
“Seeing the speed of development and the demand for valuable small open spaces in the mid-Atlantic,” West moved to start a family.
Prior to joining the High Peaks Alliance in 2020 as a full-time Executive Director, he managed thousands of acres for the Georges River Land Trust. He had done consultancy work for the alliance before being named executive director, he said.
Why did you become Executive Director of High Peaks Alliance? After spending five years in Maryland, I realized how precious access to woods and waters is. In Maryland, you must have written permission to access any private land, making access nearly impossible and forcing a large population to recreate on small public land. This experience, coupled with our Board members’ passion for ensuring access to the areas I explored growing up, made me want to get involved.
What are your responsibilities in the position? This job is a way of life that doesn’t stop at nights or weekends because it’s my job to build an organization for those who want to keep this space open and accessible. Our mission is to provide and enhance public access and recreation opportunities in the High Peaks of Maine. Our vision is to increase public access to multi-use recreational opportunities, unspoiled landscapes, a strengthened regional economy and a platform for community partnerships. I develop projects that have been identified by our members and our Board of Directors to maintain and expand public access to 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 going through a lengthy public process. The result was that Shiloh Pond was kept under the management of a town committee.
We also purchased properties that we hold in trust. In February, we purchased 80 acres along Perham Creek in Madrid (Township), which offers stunning views of Saddleback and Mount Abraham. Another recent project was to build Franklin County’s first accessible trail in partnership with (University of Maine Farmington).
Are there any big projects you are working on? 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 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 that this bridge will bring $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. We have secured over $700,000 in support and have a federal funding request from the senses. Susan Collins and Angus King (US) and (Rep. Jared) Golden.
Do you like the outdoors? I always say the best part of living here is that you never have to plan what to do, because you just move on to the next seasonal tradition. In summer, it’s hiking, mushroom picking, gardening and swimming. Then comes hunting season, foliage and fairs. Winter means snowmobiling, skiing and bonfires. Finally, spring is the season for turkeys, fiddleheads and speckled trout!
What do you like most about your job? I get satisfaction from seeing others appreciate the projects in which we participate. For example, during the inauguration of the new accessible trail in Farmington, a lady from Work First (Inc.) came to thank me. Their customers have to sign in where they go for field trips, and apparently the new trail has already filled the ledger. In Kingfield, community members who have loved the Shiloh for years are now giving back by serving on the committee. These stories keep me looking for the next project.
Editor’s note: It was announced on July 28 by US Senator Susan Collins’ director of communications that she had secured approximately $2 million in an appropriations bill for the Farmington Bridge project, but it still needs to be voted on by the entire US Senate and House of Representatives. Representatives, according to a press release.
Senate bill aims to improve access to Katahdin woods and waters