The tree house is long gone and much of the forest has fallen to subdivisions, but a 164-acre preserve being created by the Kennebec Land Trust (KLT) promises to revive Howard Hill as an urban wilderness retreat. Photograph courtesy of Genie Gannett.
Wilderness escape” is not a phrase typically associated with Augusta, Maine’s capital city of strip malls and dysfunctional roadways, but turn-of-the-20th-century Augustans didn’t have to travel far to recharge their batteries. They took to the carriage paths of Ganneston Park on Howard Hill, a 450-acre manicured forest in the State House’s backyard, created by publishing magnate William Howard Gannett. Among the park’s pleasures: this cliffside House in the Trees, with its splendid views of the copper-domed State House and the Kennebec River. Today, the tree house is long gone — Gannett removed it because it was repeatedly vandalized — and much of the forest has fallen to subdivisions, but a 164-acre preserve being created by the Kennebec Land Trust (KLT) promises to revive Howard Hill as an urban wilderness retreat. The project has not been without controversy: to help pay off its loan for the $1 million land purchase, the KLT is using $337,500 in Land for Maine’s Future funds, part of a voter-approved $11.5 million in bonds that Governor Paul LePage only recently agreed to release after a nine-month dispute with the state legislature. (Our suggestion? Allocate funds for tree house restoration!)