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Summer 2005

Protecting Northeast Creek

The largest estuary on Mount Desert Island is, for many residents and visitors, a well-kept secret. Northeast Creek empties into Thomas Bay (off Narrows) but its headwaters stretch far up into Bar Harbor’s rural Emery District forming a watershed that spans 15 square miles. While millions of people pass the creek’s mouth along Route 3, only a few explore its upper reaches by canoe or kayak—enjoying the pastoral views and opportunities for cranberry picking.

Fresh water from Northeast Creek and more than six feeder streams mingles with tidal waters in the creek’s lower reaches, filtering through acres of salt marsh grasses that shelter young fish and shellfish. “Estuaries provide essential habitat for many species, helping to replenish stocks of fish and shellfish,” observes Brian Reilly, MDI Project Manager for Maine Coast Heritage Trust. “Protecting the watershed of this productive creek helps to sustain local livelihoods and traditions.”

This area, once the island’s “bread basket,” is getting increasingly developed: over the two decades preceding 2001, the number of new residences in the watershed doubled. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) recently completed an in-depth analysis of Northeast Creek, trying to predict how the estuary might respond to expanding development within the watershed. Researchers found that water quality remains very high, but will be jeopardized if substantial building occurs without concern for runoff pollution into waterways. “The results of our work should help the Park and the Town of Bar Harbor evaluate decisions about future development,” explains Glenn Guntenspergen, a landscape ecologist with the USGS.

Lands that are permanently protected help to buffer the creek from pollution, sustaining the health of the estuarine ecosystem. More than 20 percent of lands within the watershed have been conserved through a combination of voluntary agreements (on land held by private owners) and parcels owned and maintained by Acadia National Park and the Downeast Chapter of Maine Audubon. Coast Heritage Trust has worked with area landowners to protect eight farms (totaling more than 500 acres) within the watershed, including the cherished landmark Stone Barn Farm. These conserved lands help to sustain Northeast Creek’s high water quality, while providing scenic vistas and a welcome source for fresh, local produce (see story above).

Last year, Maine Coast Heritage Trust and the MDI Housing Authority successfully conserved most of the Pooler Farm, a 176-acre farm that borders the lower reaches of Northeast Creek. MCHT is working now with the Housing Authority, Hospital and Healthy Acadia to explore the possibility of a small farming operation on the property that would help supply locally grown food for island residents. The Housing Authority plans to build up to 30 new residences for the local workforce on the property, but is designing these structures in ways to minimize their impact on the creek ecosystem. Each unit will be small and houses will be clustered and set back at least a quarter-mile from the creek. The development may also incorporate an innovative septic design and possibly composting toilets, depending on the interests of prospective residents. “We’re pleased to see these kinds of voluntary initiatives to protect Northeast Creek,” says MCHT’s Brian Reilly. “Sound building practices, in combination with permanent land protection, should help keep the creek a pristine and healthy ecosystem.”

Acadia’s Boundary: Putting the Pieces Together

Acadia National Park grew out of land donations from dozens of private property owners, so its borders resemble a half-finished jigsaw puzzle. For many years, it has been a challenge for the Park to administer this boundary and determine where it might grow in the future. Former Senator George Mitchell, who helped negotiate successful legislation in 1986 clearly defining the Park's boundary, claimed the process was every bit as daunting as the Northern Ireland peace accord!

The 1986 boundary legislation specified a list of roughly 175 parcels that the Park could acquire when and if landowners were willing to sell or donate their land to Acadia. As a private land trust, Maine Coast Heritage Trust works independently from the Park and often assists landowners who want to protect the scenic, ecological and recreational values of their land. MCHT can help landowners through the federal acquisition process, or—if Park funds are not available—the Trust may even serve as an interim buyer and hold the land for future park acquisition (as it did recently with parcels by Sunken Heath and Northeast Creek).

While the boundary legislation prevents Acadia from owning any parcels on MDI that are not on its acquisition list, MCHT can assist owners of these lands with other means of protection— such as the con-servation easement, a tool that allows a landowner to retain private ownership while voluntarily restricting future development. Since 1970, private landowners have placed more than 130 conservation easements on islands and shorefront parcels surrounding Acadia National Park, helping to protect the area’s beauty and rich habitats.

MCHT also benefits greatly from its close working relationship with Friends of Acadia on Park boundary issues. In response to repeated federal cuts in national park funding and soaring land values on MDI, is garnering public and private funding for future Park acquisitions. and Friends are working collaboratively to help the Park and private landowners augment the enduring land legacy of Acadia.

Stewards of the Land: Living with a Conservation Easement

Located barely a mile from busy Route 3, Bar Harbor’s Fogg Farm encompasses 70 acres of open fields, apple orchards and pine woods bordering Acadia National Park. When the farm went on the market in the 1990s, it was a prime target for development. Maine Coast Heritage Trust stepped in, helping to place an easement on the farm that permits limited residential and agricultural use while protecting the land’s beauty and productivity.

In August 2003, owners Aaron and Barbarina Heyerdahl sold to Lucian and Smith, two local farmers who were looking for land well suited to dairy farming. “Given the island’s high land values,” notes Maggie Smith, “the easement helped put the farm more in our price range.” The Smiths, who have managed Beech Hill continued from page oneFarm for many years, recently built a solar home on their new property—siting it to conform to easement restrictions (which specify that no power lines cross the farm’s fields). “The easement made the building process a little more challenging,” Maggie Smith reflects, “but it wasn’t a huge obstacle.”

MCHT staff members visit Fogg Farm once a year to monitor the easement and consult with the Smiths on any planned changes to the property. They also field questions from the Smiths that arise in the course of the year: “the individuals at MCHT we’ve been working with have been helpful and great,” Maggie says.

Having a conservation easement on the land may even benefit the Farm’s marketing efforts, speculates, as they begin selling organic milk, yogurt and vegetables. “People who value conserved lands often appreciate having local, organic food,” she says, “so it’s a natural connection.”

Schoolhouse Ledge Project Completed

In May, Maine Coast Heritage Trust completed a two-year effort to protect a critical portion of the Schoolhouse trail network in Northeast Harbor. This unspoiled woodland area, long enjoyed by hikers, was privately owned and could have been sold for residential or commercial development. “Thanks to the generosity of community donors and the landholder—the Mount Desert Water District, this popular stretch of ridgeline will remain undeveloped and accessible,” notes Brian Reilly, MDI Project Manager for MCHT.

The Water District will retain ownership of the land, but MCHT now holds a conservation easement on the 52-acre property that prevents any future residential or commercial development. The fair market value of those rights was $1.5 million, a sum that was raised thanks to the exceptional generosity of island residents. MCHT is grateful to all those who made the project a success, ensuring that Schoolhouse Ledge will remain a cherished resource for the island community to enjoy.

Memorial Gifts Benefit Schoolhouse Ledge Project

Albert (“Al”) Allan, a longtime resident of Seal Harbor, passed away in January at the age 72. An avid gardener and walker, Allan worked for 44 years for Rockefeller family—managing their building and grounds crews Seal Harbor. staff of Maine Coast Heritage Trust worked with closely on many projects over decades, from trail planning the Trust’s annual garden party. loved the woodlands, trails carriage roads he cared for and extremely dedicated to the community,” reflects David Mac- Donald of MCHT. “He had a reliable presence that drew people him: he was such a trustworthy person.” Following Allan’s death, family asked that gifts in his name be given to MCHT to support the Schoolhouse Ledge project, helping to save the trails and outdoor traditions that Al loved. MCHT is honored to have been named to receive these gifts, and thanks the many people who have contributed in Al’s memory.