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6/12/2013 2:00:00 PM
Al Railsback Retires From DLWA
New Damariscotta Lake Watershed executive director Jodi Jones speaks highly of her predecessor Al Railsback at his retirement celebration Friday night at the Damariscotta Lake Farms banquet facility.
New Damariscotta Lake Watershed executive director Jodi Jones speaks highly of her predecessor Al Railsback at his retirement celebration Friday night at the Damariscotta Lake Farms banquet facility.
By Paula Roberts

Damariscotta Lake Watershed Association, or DLWA, said farewell to Alan Railsback at a retirement celebration at Damariscotta Lake Farms Restaurant's banquet facility in Jefferson June 7.

Railsback was the first DLWA executive director and dedicated his life to the job since 1998.

Railsback was given the designation as lifetime member to DLWA by new executive director Jodi Jones. Railsback will remain active in DLWA on a part-time basis.

Several spoke of his accomplishments at DLWA and read letters exemplifying Railsback's service to the Damariscotta Lake community.

DLWA board member Norman Casas said the best way to describe Railsback is as a "fervent conversationalist and naturalist."

To him Casas said, "Thanks for everything. DLWA would not be here without Al Railsback. Your dedication has been an inspiration to me."

"I salute you for your dedication and leadership," DLWA president John Hardman wrote in a letter read at the ceremony in Railsback's honor.

DLWA board member Marty Welt described the first time he met Railsback shortly after moving to the area. They met while Welt was opening a new mail box at the Newcastle post office.

"He introduced himself to me and handed me a newsletter. A few weeks later Al called me and asked me to be on the board. I knew the well-being of Damariscotta Lake was a priority to Al," Welt said.

DRA Executive Director Steven Hufnagel spoke about being the "new guy on the block" and how Railsback welcomed him as if he were an "old guy." He also praised Railsback for his foresight and work with the 12 Rivers Collaborative.

Former Sheepscot Valley Conservation Association Executive Director Maureen Hoffman spoke about working with Railsback on several joint projects.

"Al was always three steps ahead of me." Of walking an easement property with Railsback, Hoffman said, "Does he know everything?... He knew every bird; every plant. That was the start of a wonderful relationship between our two organizations."

Hoffman also credited Railsback with the 12 Rivers Collaborative and commented on his "creative thinking."

Railsback's daughter Emily read a moving letter written by her brother, Eric.

In it, Eric wrote that the "lake was a great deal of pride and enjoyment to my Dad." Eric recalled being awakened early to reluctantly conduct a loon count or lake clarity test with his father.

He didn't see the value in the work then, but does now as an adult and appreciates his father's efforts. "My Dad did not just spent hours at DLWA, it was his life."

Eric fondly recalled his father milling out a 20-foot beam with a chainsaw to be used in the house he built for his family on Damariscotta Lake in Nobleboro. That home is still in the family.

"He took great effort to not disturb the shore," Eric said of a narrow path to the water. "He was not about powerboats and speed, because they detracted from the peacefulness of the lake."

His sister, Judi Finn, wrote in a letter that working at DLWA was "your dream job." She wrote about spending time with Al in the woods and about the natural treasures found in his bedroom as a youth, including a knotted sock containing a snake specimen. She closed by saying, "Thanks Al, you got me hooked on nature."

Terry McCabe, who has served on the DLWA board for 20 years said when it was time for DLWA to hire an executive director, "we decided we had the perfect man for the job in Al.

McCabe spoke of Railsback's vision for the land trust and how he worked to protect over 1000 acres of land. "Walking with Al in the woods is an education. He amazed me, enlightened me and inspired me," McCabe said.

"Al Railsback saw the flood [of development] coming and has been working to protect the lake and area around it. Through Al's efforts, large [tracts of land] are protected. Al always wanted to get land protected from development.

Over 1000 acres have been protected. Establishing a conservation easement is not an easy task," Bill Heald said. Railsback is "good at picking people for the organization and great at involving others to work on a project. That hard work is protecting the watershed and keeping the lake clean for the enjoyment of all."

"Walking in the woods was always an experience, but Al never gets lost," Heald said.

Wavus Camp alumnus Priscilla Watson said "Al was 90 percent responsible for saving the camp and saving the land. Al knew that a number of us Wavus grads lived along the lake. He was the spearhead in raising almost a million dollars," Watson said of Al, who she described as wearing red suspenders with a corncob pipe.

Caroline Hardman wrote, "Thank you Al for all the energy you've put into the lake. As a history teacher, I like to play "what if." What if you had lived in a different watershed? Would Wavus and Chimney Farms be a development?"

At the conclusion of the program, the good-sized crowd gave Railsback a standing ovation. He asked everyone to remain standing and said, "thanks to you - the feet on the ground. You are the volunteers who make this thing go. It's the feet on the ground. We have to have the people who live here get involved. The challenge is to train the next group of volunteers.

"The real heroes are the ones who volunteer. I have great faith in those who turned out tonight. Everyone here has made a contribution. I see me as a catalyst," Railsback said.

"We are lucky to have Jodi (Jones) with us. I think you are in good hands in the future. It is not going to be easy. We have to do some serious fundraising. We need to find some other folks down the line, some kind of planned giving," Railsback said of DLWA's future.

"We are counting on you folks to keep up the work you've been doing. Even if you can't write a big check, there is always something you can do to help," Railsback said.

DLWA's predecessor, the Damariscotta Lake Association, was formed in 1966 to address concerns with lake levels. "They had the memory of the levels in 1928, before they built the new dam," Railsback said.

The lake level rose again by three or four feet when new turbines were installed. Railsback estimates lake levels are about eight feet higher than they were in the early 1800s. "They are still talking about lake levels," Railsback added.

Railsback arrived on Damariscotta Lake in the 1980s and soon became a volunteer, attending board meetings and participating in loon counts. As executive director, Railsback worked to enforce FERC rules; worked to restore the fish ladder; conducted lake water quality tests; did a watershed survey and mapped all properties that contribute flow into the lake; trained volunteers to understand non-point source of pollution; stood up for the lake in discussions with Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife on the new state boat launch; instituted a courtesy boat inspection program; trained volunteers to identify invasive plants; monitored conservation easements; helped with Hooked on Fishing programs, plus numerous other projects.

Railsback was proactive when it came to fighting invasive species.

With 30 Maine lakes already infested with invasives, he knew it wasn't if the lake became infected, but when.

DLWA started training volunteers to identify invasive plants, and had 175 people volunteer the first year. DLWA-trained volunteer Dick Butterfield discovered the first infestation of hydrilla, which is now under control.

Protecting Damariscotta Lake and conserving lands around the lake will be Railsback's legacy. Through his efforts, seven parcels of land are now owned by DLWA and many others are under conservation easement.

Chimney Farm in Nobleboro and the Henry Beston Writing Cottage are preserved, along with Spectacle Island, Fiore land on Mountain Road, and former Forest Peaslee land on the West Branch Preserve in Somerville and Jefferson.

Railsback is a big proponent of saving farm lands and the organic gardening movement. Through stewardship, "the way the land looks can be preserved. That is why people come to Maine - the looks," he said.

On June 10, when speaking of accomplishments, Railsback said stewardship was his biggest while at DLWA.

"That event [the retirement party] was a good example ... with all those people that showed up. I wish I had gone around and had everybody identify what they have done [for DLWA]. They are a real asset to the community," Railsback said.

The Damariscotta Lake Water Association office is at 28 Lake Farm Circle, Jefferson. For more information, and to learn how to volunteer or contribute to the DLWA, call 549-3836, or email, or visit

Related Links:
• Damariscotta Lake Watershed Association

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