skip navigation

Home > Stories From the Coast > An Artist, a Letter & an Island

An Artist, a Letter & an Island

Decades ago, artist Marilyn Cameron Noel “Cam” and her husband were visiting Maine when they saw “a sad little house with an incredible view” in Penobscot Bay. Cam never forgot it. After her husband died, she returned, bought the place, and made it happy again. In her island home she painted, knit sweaters, and relished her view of the islands of Muscle Ridge in the distance.

Two years before she passed away, Cam penned these words in a letter to Maine Coast Heritage Trust: “Since I am leaving my entire estate to MCHT, I want that money to be used to buy an island in the Penobscot Bay off the coast of Maine . . . and I wish it to be left forever in its natural state.”

Now MCHT is working to honor her generous gift by protecting midcoast Maine’s iconic Monroe Island from development and turning it into a public preserve.

Self portrait by Marilyn Cameron Noel

Monroe Island is one of the largest undeveloped islands in the region, a short distance from Owls Head and prominently visible on a ferry ride to Vinalhaven. As far as island preserves go, this is about as accessible as it gets—and MCHT is working with the town to make it even more so. In 2015, MCHT conserved a piece of nearby property on the mainland, adjacent to public land owned by the town of Owls Head. We’re now talking with the town’s conservation committee about collaborating to create a shorefront pocket park with a parking lot and public hand-carry boat launch.

Dick Carver, a fisherman and former selectman from Owls Head (now on too many committees to name), says, “You’re always worried about the town losing revenue when land is conserved, but in this case the upsides far outweigh the down. We’re not making any more land, but there are a lot more people, and waterfront property is only going to become more expensive to put into conservation to make sure it’s available for everyone. As far as Maine Coast Heritage Trust working with the town to create a park area on the mainland, I think it’s got the makings of a great partnership.”

If MCHT can raise the rest of the funds to acquire Monroe and turn it into a public preserve, steward Amanda Devine will build on the current owner’s legacy of good stewardship by expanding camping and hiking opportunities. “It’s this big, wild, welcoming place that’s so close,” says Amanda. “You can spend the whole day out there on the island and not get bored, exploring the meadows, woods, ponds, sandy coves, and rock ledges.”

From Monroe’s southern shoreline, the views are of open ocean and the islands of Muscle Ridge Cam so admired. That makes Cam’s dear friend and neighbor, Barbara Noyes, happy. Barbara looks forward to seeing Monroe in the distance and thinking of Cam. “I like thinking people will be able to roam this whole island—it’s so nice to find a place where you can do that,” she says. We couldn’t agree more.

Thanks in large part to Cam Noel’s generosity, the goal to raise $1.9 million to conserve Monroe Island by August 1, 2018, is halfway complete. You can help turn this vision for Monroe Island into a reality. Please be in touch with David Warren at 207-522-9228 or dwarren@mcht.org.