Maine Coast Heritage Trust depends on the foresight of landowners dedicated to preserving the places they cherish. Donated conservation easements and lands represented nearly half of the projects MCHT completed in the past 16 months--permanently protecting 725 acres and 10 shoreline miles--with significant wildlife habitat, scenic viewsheds and productive clamflats. These gifts demonstrate a collective commitment to, in one donor's words, "share the generosity of the place with unknown future generations."
In Merchant Row off Stonington, Jim and Marge Anderson recently donated to MCHT Little Camp Island (now a preserve) and a conservation easement on 68-acre Camp Island. Preserving more than two miles of bold granite shoreline in the heart of this stunning archipelago, they say, made them feel "like we were stringing pearls" in a necklace (which now includes more than 30 protected islands in the area). Having sailed extensively, the Andersons have seen many areas diminished by careless building. "Merchant Row is truly one of the most beautiful places in the world," Marge says, "and it's really nice to feel we've done our bit to help preserve it."
Easements can play an important role buffering existing conserved lands, particularly in settings like Mount Desert Island where shorefront values are high--making development pressure intense. An easement donated by Stephen and Allison Sullens will maintain the wild beauty of 20 shorefront acres adjoining MCHT's Blue Horizons Preserve on Indian Point Road, protecting views along the Western Bay shoreline from this beloved preserve.
Lying near Mackworth Island in Casco Bay, The Brothers Islands in Falmouth will continue to provide a haven for tidal wading birds, waterfowl, blue herons and osprey. An easement gift to MCHT allowed landowner Larney Otis to strengthen existing conservation restrictions and to provide additional protection of the ledges, mud flats and upland habitat between the island and the nearby mainland shore (which Otis placed under easement in 2011).
Another easement donated to MCHT last year will keep forever wild almost 50 wooded acres in Brooklin bordering Blue Hill Bay, maintaining scenic views along a town road, preserving deer and coyote habitat, and buffering valuable clamflats. For the six members of the Willis and Wilkinson families who jointly own 80 acres (which once belonged to their grandfather), the easement gift will help the family keep most of the land undisturbed--a vision they all shared for its future. "This place is our roots," explains family member Hope MacDonald. "We want to keep it the way we all remember it, the way it was when we were growing up, and the way we want it to be always in our minds."
Landowners completing conservation easement donations in 2012 could not count on receiving increased income tax benefits. Congress ultimately voted to award those benefits retroactively and extend them through 2013. "It's unclear what will happen in 2014 and beyond," observes Director of Land Protection Betsy Ham. "For those who have been considering an easement gift, this year may offer the best prospect for tax advantages."
Our new strategic plan is completed, thanks to a remarkable collective effort within and beyond Maine Coast Heritage Trust. Through feedback from our members and partners, the hard work of our Board and Council, and intensive staff research, we've gained valuable insights into the changing world of land conservation in Maine. At times, during a year filled with data and discussions, the planning process felt like a long, steep hike through thick woods. But as the material came together and patterns emerged, it was like cresting an open summit and seeing to distant horizons in every direction. The new plan does far more than map out our tasks for the coming five years: it helps us maintain that summit view of the critical links between land conservation and the well-being of Maine's human and natural communities.
Maine enjoyed impressive conservation success over the last quarter-century, with the percent of its land base that is permanently protected rising from 5 to nearly 20 percent. Yet land protection efforts in the coastal zone have always faced extra challenges--given high property values and more intense population and development pressures. Today, those forces are compounded by climatological, economic and sociological dynamics that are reshaping communities and shifting perspectives on conservation.
Our strategic planning process was helpful in identifying the opportunities ahead and forging strategies to advance conservation in a changing climate (in every sense of that word!). Over the next year, I'll be sharing more about trends affecting the state's landscape, and how MCHT is responding. More than ever before, we will be working collaboratively with communities to devise creative conservation solutions that meet their needs.
One of the most affirming insights that came out of our planning work was that the bedrock of our success--the deep commitment of members to our mission--has not changed. We heard back from many members through surveys and discussions just how much they value the Trust's work to sustain the character and integrity of Maine's coast.
More heartening still, we witness in our work every day that love for the coast and commitment to its long-term protection. We see it in the visionary landowners (several of them featured in this issue) who offer us conservation easements and land gifts; in the generous donors who step up when need requires; in the dedicated volunteers who help us maintain our preserves; in the hard-working partner organizations with whom we collaborate; and in the Board and Council members who so ably supported our planning process. The depth of care and commitment in our membership is truly inspiring, and helps ensure that we'll navigate well through the challenges ahead.
Forty years ago, Bob Brack and his late wife Joan purchased 20 acres overlooking Machias Bay where they tented out with their children (and later built a rustic camp). "As we got to know the land," Bob says, "we gained a huge appreciation for just how special it is." Known for its striking beauty and abundant wildlife, Machias Bay has long been a gathering place for the Passamaquoddy tribe.
"My mother really appreciated the land's remarkable energy, and began to study the Passamaquoddy legacy," their son Ken Brack reflects. "Machias Bay is a place where there's a thin separation between the material and spirit worlds." "When we went there for a week," Bob recalls, "it was like we'd gone somewhere for three weeks."
A few years ago, a neighbor proposed a 26-lot subdivision on Long Point, the adjoining 66-acre peninsula, which encompasses two miles of stunning shorefront and is one of nine sites around Machias Bay with petroglyphs(dating back 380 to 3,000 years). The Town of Machiasport ultimately rejected the development plan, but that threat prompted the Bracks to consider ways to permanently protect that property and others in the vicinity.
Seeing their own land as the "beachhead," the Bracks recently donated a conservation easement on their property to Maine Coast Heritage Trust. When MCHT secured a purchase option on the adjoining tract that had been slated for subdivision, Bob Brack says, "someone had to step forward, and I felt strongly enough to offer a match commitment to spur the effort along."
Bob Brack's generous gift, along with a match from The Pew Charitable Trusts, will leverage other contributions--helping MCHT raise more than $1 million for acquisition and stewardship of Long Point. Qualifying gifts receive a dollar-for-dollar match.
The Brack family wants, in Ken's words, "to do the right thing as temporary stewards of the land." In the Passamaquoddy view, Bob says, "the air and water and land are not ours, but belong to some power beyond us."
Tucked in the upper reaches of east Penobscot Bay, Pond Island is unique among Maine islands. The island's entire northern side is a long beach, backed by a dune and salt marsh. On warm summer days, the island attracts numerous visitors to swim, picnic and explore, yet few of them realize that the beach represents an unusual geologic feature. According to the Maine Critical Areas Program, Pond Island has one of the state's best examples of an "open cuspate barrier beach"--a coastal sand dune system that encompasses two barrier beaches that meet at a small knoll, forming a salt marsh and salt pond (connected to the bay by a tidal channel).
Pond Island's mix of beaches, dunes, salt marsh, meadows and woods helps support a diversity of plants and wildlife--including many shorebirds and wading birds. In one survey, researchers found 24 bird species nesting on the 32-acre island. The John's Head peninsula, which connects to Pond Island at low tide, at times has nesting eiders, guillemots and gulls. The other end of the island, which is rapidly eroding, often hosts nesting bank swallows.
The salt pond (which gives the island its name) may once have been fresh water, making it desirable for both wildlife and humans. Artifacts from the island indicate human use in the 1600s and as far back as 2,000 years ago. Pond Island was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979, and subsequently bought by the Philadelphia Conservationists, Inc., who donated a "forever wild" easement on the island to Acadia National Park in 1982. Recognizing that a Maine-based organization could better manage the island's public use, that group transferred Pond to Maine Coast Heritage Trust in 1995.
Pond Island has two campsites (with larger groups required to seek advance permission), and a trail that visitors can use to reach the island's highest point.
Stewardship of protected lands is a growing part of Maine Coast Heritage Trust's work, as its preserves and conservation easement lands increase in number. Each year, the Trust's regional stewards receive help from hundreds of dedicated volunteers who contribute more than 3,000 hours to MCHT stewardship projects.
Stewardship volunteers who live near MCHT preserves may commit to serve as ongoing preserve stewards, walking the trail system at least twice a month. "We've had individuals serve in this role for years, helping monitor conditions and reporting on preserve use," observes Jane Arbuckle, Director of Stewardship. Some volunteers adopt this role formally, while others simply report to the Trust as needed--informing stewardship staff about matters that need attention.
While larger work parties typically tackle big challenges like bog bridge construction, building demolition or trail repair, there's an ongoing need for help with routine tasks. "It's great to have a pool of people you can call on when you need another set of hands," observes Regional Steward Melissa Lee, "especially people who don't mind sweaty, buggy, muddy work conditions. One of my volunteers, Chad Milne, is invaluable because he's always game to help out--whatever the task, whenever I ask."
Volunteers often develop their own specialized niche, as has Tom Carr, an avid paddler who helps with work on Casco Bay islands. Volunteers need not have specialized skills, notes Regional Steward Amanda Devine, but those like Carr "who are handy with chainsaws and other implements of destruction are particularly welcome on projects involving trail-clearing or invasive species removal."
In addition to the volunteers who assist Trust staff routinely, MCHT offers many one-time opportunities for members and friends to help.
Betsy Ham, who served with Ciona Ulbrich as Interim Co-Director of Land Protection, has been named MCHT's new Director of Land Protection--coordinating a team of seven project managers that spans the length of Maine's coast. In addition to 11 years as a project manager for MCHT, Betsy formerly directed a land trust and did both regional planning and statewide policy work.
MCHT welcomes Steve Walker as the new Land Protection Project Manager for the midcoast region. Steve worked previously for the State of Maine as the Beginning with Habitat Program Coordinator, and brings extensive experience in land conservation and collaborative community work along with in-depth knowledge of the natural world.
Connie Ekowicki, MCHT’s new part-time Staff Accountant, has ten years of accounting experience in both private and nonprofit settings.
Maine Coast Heritage Trust is offering short-term rentals of its rustic cabin at the Saddleback Island Preserve in Merchant Row (off Stonington). MCHT members can spend a few quiet days there in July and August (accommodating up to eight people). Please visit mcht.org/saddleback for more information. The rental schedule fills quickly so sign up early.