When Plum Creek Timber and Weyerhaeuser merged in February 2016, the new company (under the Weyerhaeuser name) became the largest landowner in the world, with 13.5 million acres to its name. Although both companies were well known for their timber business, they were also actively involved in partnerships in real estate, development, conservation, recreational leasing, mitigation banking (wetland credits purchased to offset construction and development activities), as well as energy and natural resources.
All of these non-timber, alternative value businesses are the responsibilities of Jim Kilberg, senior vice president of real estate, energy, and natural resources for the merged company. With so many different areas to coordinate, the biggest challenge of his career might be the development of the 400,000-acre Moosehead Lake property in northern Maine. It will involve a decades-long development process that includes one of the largest conservation efforts in US history, as 97 percent of the property’s acreage has been set aside for protection.
To determine how to make the best use of Moosehead’s size, location, wildlife, 400-acre lake, and other resources, Kilberg’s team applied a sophisticated regression model to assess all the factors that affected a variety of potential business and development strategies. It’s worth noting that the process had previously been applied to all Plum Creek holdings, resulting in $1 billion in increased value over the course of 10 years.
The team examined characteristics such as existing infrastructure, including transportation and utilities, proximity to national and state parks, local demographics, population migration, existing nearby development, and attributes of the land itself.
“Every location is unique,” Kilberg says. “Once you understand that uniqueness, you leverage those attributes to maximize both their value and use. Moosehead happens to be an extraordinarily large and unique asset, so the possibilities are also rather extraordinary.”
Weyerhaeuser has been working with Roger Brooks International to develop a branding and “place-making” strategy, as well as consulting firm Point B to help identify and attract appropriate development partners. So far, these efforts have included christening Moosehead as “America’s Crown Jewel,” helping to form the Moosehead Lake Region Economic Development Commission, and launching marketing efforts to entice large-scale resort developers. All of this has taken place in close cooperation with the local community, which has agreed to implement suggestions such as installing a wayfinding system for the town and surrounding trails, “refreshing” streetscapes, and having businesses stay open later to accommodate future visitors.
“If you work with communities in a thoughtful and empathetic way, you develop a partnership,” Kilberg says. “What’s important is that both parties act together as stewards of the land.”
Although there was some local opposition to the initial development plan, Kilberg believes that conservation and development can be complimentary—especially in an area as large as Moosehead. After all, he says, the average shopping center is only 10 acres.
“The scope here is staggering, so we’re able to preserve a significant landscape as conservation, develop less than 5 percent of the land, and still be economically viable,” Kilberg says. “It’s a way to preserve the character of the town, the integrity of the land, continue the community’s history in timber operations, and provide a range of benefits to the entire area.”
Moosehead Lake at a Glance
In 2012, the state of Maine approved a plan for Moosehead Lake that includes:
363,000 acres of land put into permanent conservation easement, conserving 2 million contiguous acres for public access
16,900 acres entitled for planned development
1,050 units entitled for resort development, 975 for traditional residential development, along with limited commercial and industrial development
10 zones for development located close to existing service centers, developed areas, and/or public roadways
Weyerhaeuser has no shortage of development opportunities across the country that stretch from the coast of North Carolina all the way to Washington. Prior to the merger, Kilberg and his team undertook another large-scale 65,000-acre project in Alachua County, Florida, but he admits there is nothing that prepared him for the scope and scale that the project in Maine presents.
“This is a completely different feeling from anything I’ve done in the past,” he says. “Moosehead is a chance to have a direct impact on the economic well-being of an entire community and to make a real difference that will last for generations. All of those challenges and opportunities are huge drivers for me.”
The timing may be perfect for unveiling Moosehead Lake to potential partners and to the public. Recent resort development studies indicate that buyers are becoming less interested in traditional resort offerings like golf and tennis and more inclined to look for “experiential vacationing.” With easy access to the Appalachian Trail, fishing, hunting, snowmobiling, sailing, mountain biking, and skiing as just some of the amenities surrounding this natural paradise, it’s likely that Moosehead Lake will be the very kind of experience they seek.