For decades, Maine Coast Heritage Trust has worked with partners to help protect the shoreline and islands of Casco Bay for their ecological, scenic and recreational values. MCHT preserves include newly conserved Lanes Island in Yarmouth and Whaleboat Island in Harpswell—both favorite spots for boaters. Late last year, landowner Larney Otis gave MCHT a conservation easement on the southern end of Lower Goose Island in Harpswell, allowing public access to a hiking trail and a popular outcrop known as the Nubbin.
Now the Trust has an opportunity to protect additional properties: the northern half of Clapboard Island in Falmouth, and the Goslings—two small islands in Harpswell that are among the area’s best-known and best-loved settings. Successfully completing these projects will depend on strong financial support from those who value these islands.
“The Casco Bay region represents the backyard of about one-third of Maine’s population,” notes MCHT Project Manager Keith Fletcher. “The long tradition of access to these islands is part of what makes Casco Bay so popular, and it’s what we hope to preserve.”
Generations of boaters have enjoyed access to The Goslings, thanks to landowner permission. Lying on the Maine Island Trail and alongside a cruising anchorage, The Goslings see use by picnickers and boaters far disproportionate to their small size. Visitors love to explore the sandbars and shell beaches, and watch for terns, bald eagles and seals.
MCHT now holds an exclusive option to conserve The Goslings, thanks to a discounted price offered by the LeMaitre family. To complete the purchase and ensure long-term stewardship of the property, MCHT must raise $925,000 by the end of the summer. Otherwise, the islands will be sold on the open market, jeopardizing their availability to the public.
MCHT also is working to acquire the northern half of Clapboard Island, which is visible from the mainland in Falmouth Foreside. Acquiring Clapboard will prevent further development and provide public access to 15 acres of the island for the first time in more than 100 years. The Falmouth Town Council has approved a contribution toward this $1.6 million project.
For both these Casco Bay island acquisitions to succeed, MCHT will need generous private donations. To contribute, please donate online or contact our Development office at 207-729-7366.
Alan Hummer of Brunswick recalls childhood explorations on The Goslings, two islands in upper Casco Bay that are small in scale but vast in their appeal. By the time Alan was in high school, he was camping there with friends—enjoying snorkeling and water skiing. When Alan had a family of his own, his children were on The Goslings as infants. “Those were their first beaches,” he says. It later became a primary destination for family traditions like lobster bakes and celebrations: “that’s our favorite spot to watch Fourth of July fireworks,” he adds.
“We always knew it was privately owned, and couldn’t help but be concerned—knowing what can happen with generational changes,” Alan reflects. “We’re glad the owners are giving Maine Coast Heritage Trust first dibs in selling their land, and I’m happy to do my part by making my first-ever donation to MCHT. On any Sunday afternoon there, you’ll see boats from Portland to Mere Point. There are even cruisers from Massachusetts. I hope they’ll all contribute.”
If enough people support MCHT’s purchase of The Goslings, it will remain a treasured destination where families can enjoy beachcombing, birdwatching and shared memories. That is Alan’s hope: that “my kids’ kids will get to do the same thing.”
While natural and human communities are inherently dynamic, the pace of change seems to accelerate with each passing year and its trajectory becomes less predictable. As conservationists, we can’t manage processes beyond our control. But we can strengthen our capacity to anticipate disruptive change and to respond promptly and effectively. That’s a core idea behind the increasingly popular concept of “resilience.”
We see resilience at work in the natural lands we conserve. These ecosystems continually respond to environmental changes—both incremental ones (like gradually increasing average temperatures) and sudden shocks (such as intense storms). Part of our work as land stewards and ecologists involves tracking these adaptations, trying to understand the stressors on the system and how species accommodate inevitable change.
Some land communities—as Aldo Leopold called them—meet these challenges better than others. Through our experience with preserves like Witherle Woods (see story below), we’ve affirmed a basic tenet of ecology: diversity strengthens resilience. The old-growth woods we acquired there—while beautiful—were vulnerable, being confined to just a few species of a similar age. When insect damage weakened those trees, they went out en masse in two storms. Woods with more age and species diversity would have better withstood those back-to-back blows.
Yet even the decimation of 50 wooded acres opens the way for new species and greater diversity. Ecosystems remind us to value adaptability. The capacity to adjust needs to be ongoing, with no fixed “solution” that can hold through time.
Much of what ecology teaches us about resilience translates well to our human communities—where we can consciously cultivate the ability to learn from experience (the setbacks as well as the successes). As land trusts evolve, we need to strengthen our capacity to weather disruptions and still care for the lands entrusted to us.
One of the best ways we cultivate that resilience is through the collaborative networks we forge. If one member of a network faces challenges, others can adapt to help fulfill those responsibilities. We see that resilience at work within organizations and within Maine’s land trust community (as the story below demonstrates). MCHT has brought together and fostered this community as the Maine Land Trust Network, and we are fortunate to have a great diversity of land conservation organizations with a long history of cooperation. The good will, trust and knowledge-sharing that sustain our collegial bonds will serve us in good stead—given the potential in coming years for greater ecological, social and economic disruptions.
Cultivating resilience in both the natural and human communities we care for can help us navigate change with more confidence and less trepidation. “By encouraging adaptation, agility, cooperation, connectivity and diversity,” Andrew Zolli writes in Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back, “resilience-thinking can bring us to a different way of being in the world, and to a deeper engagement with it.” At its best, that is just what land conservation achieves.
Membership support ensures MCHT’s ability to protect and care for your favorite spots along Maine’s coast, and brings you special benefits including:
Thank you to all our members who make our work possible. If you’re not currently a member, you can sign up online today at mcht.org.
Maine Coast Heritage Trust’s Witherle Woods Preserve sits on a high promontory where the Penobscot and Bagaduce rivers join Penobscot Bay. It’s a spectacular setting for walking and picnicking, one that local residents have enjoyed for more than 130 years.
In the early 1870s, Castine resident George H. Witherle bought land that is now part of the Preserve and created carriage roads for community members to enjoy. Part of the 4-mile trail system he established was based on artillery roads built during the War of 1812. For two centuries prior to that conflict, European powers vied for strategic control of the headland. And long before the colonists arrived, generations of Abenaki spent summers camping there, eating and drying abundant fish from what they called Majabigwaduce, large tideway river.
MCHT began conservation of this historical property in the 1980s, thanks to generous donations from three landowners and one additional purchase. Much of its 185 acres supported conifers that had grown up from abandoned meadows 90 years earlier. Infestations of spruce budworm and spruce bark beetle began to weaken these stately trees, though, and the 2007 Patriot’s Day storm and a subsequent microburst leveled about 50 acres of woods. To reopen trails and prevent downed trees from becoming a fire hazard, MCHT had remedial salvage and thinning work done on more than half the Preserve.
“Ecosystems are always dynamic,” notes Stewardship Director Jane Arbuckle, “but the transformation at Witherle has been especially dramatic. Our staff and the local community have had to adapt in response. This is the only preserve where MCHT has done active forest management, a choice made of necessity.”
Mature forests have given way to open areas and views that haven’t been visible for a century. With more varied habitat, Arbuckle says, “there’s a greater diversity of species using the Preserve so it’s a great setting for birdwatching.”
Directions: Follow Route 166 south (from the junction with 166A in Castine) 0.9 miles to the top of a hill. Continue right at a sharp bend and drive 0.8 miles along Battle Avenue. Preserve parking is on the right. New preserve brochures—which include a trail map—are available at a kiosk (located on the right 900 feet up the dirt road from the parking area gate).
Nearby Conserved Lands: MCHT’s 21-acre Lampson Preserve and 49-acre Tills Point Preserve both border the Bagaduce River (see mcht.org for details). The Trust now owns and manages the Rene Henderson Preserve (see related story), a 90-acre preserve located on the east side of Route 166A (0.7 miles north of the Route 166 junction).
Maine Coast Heritage Trust recently strengthened the capacity for land protection and stewardship on and around the Blue Hill Peninsula by helping two local partners negotiate a merger. “The significant support we lent to this effort,” says Senior Project Manager Ciona Ulbrich, “is an extension of our long-standing commitment to help Maine’s land trust community care for lands in perpetuity.”
The merger was a natural outgrowth of a decades-long partnership between two local trusts, The Conservation Trust of Brooksville, Castine, and Penobscot (TCT) and Blue Hill Heritage Trust (BHHT). MCHT originally helped establish both neighboring trusts, and has offered them consistent support and guidance. In recent years, all three land trusts worked together to protect a large portion of Penobscot’s Wallamatogus Mountain and to secure major funding for wildlife habitat protection in the Bagaduce River watershed.
That history of cooperation and trust fostered a merger process characterized by great consideration and mutual respect. The added support MCHT offered, including technical assistance and a willingness to assume responsibility for approximately half of TCT’s holdings, helped prepare for a relatively seamless organizational transition.
Through 35 years of work coordinated primarily by volunteers, TCT was able to protect approximately 1,000 acres (in 15 preserves and 19 conservation easements). Yet with a small volunteer base and limited funds, it became hard to keep up with stewardship demands. TCT lands and conservation easement holdings will be transferred to MCHT and to BHHT, a nationally accredited land trust that manages more than 6,600 acres of conserved lands.
To provide an endowment for the long-term care of the lands being transferred, the three trusts are working collaboratively to raise $350,000. With just over half these funds now raised, MCHT still needs generous contributions in coming months to reach this target by fall.
“We’re glad to know these properties are in such good hands,” former TCT President Maynard Forbes says, “and a number of our board members look forward to remaining engaged as volunteers for BHHT and/or MCHT.” “While the organizations are shifting, the people are not,” Ulbrich says. The staff and volunteers of both BHHT and MCHT will continue to sustain the long tradition of conservation outreach and land protection on and around the Blue Hill Peninsula.
Maine Coast Heritage Trust welcomes two new development staff members to its Topsham office. Nicole Connelly, the Trust’s Major Gift Officer, comes to MCHT from the University of New England and worked previously as Executive Director of the Environmental Fund for Maryland. Peter Kilpatrick is now helping out the Development team with data entry, event logistics and mailings.
Tim Swan is MCHT’s first Digital Communications Specialist, managing all aspects of its website, social media, mass e-mail outreach, and digital photo library.
Aaron Englander brings experience in youth and community initiatives to his role as Program Manager at the Erickson Fields Preserve in Rockport.
Jeremy Lucas, Aldermere Farm’s new Program Assistant, worked previously for Boy Scouts of America -Pine Tree Council and for Pine Tree Society.
Marty Anderson, who served the Land Protection team downeast for seven years, left the Trust this winter and will be greatly missed.