72-Acre learning forest protected through collaboration

Release date: September 12, 2022

The land conservation effort protects important salt marsh habitat and will provide a vast outdoor classroom for students

MOUNT DESERT — An environmentally significant parcel of land in the Babson Creek watershed is now under permanent conservation easement as part of a collaborative project between The Community School of Mount Desert Island (TCS) and Maine Coast Heritage Trust (MCHT).

The 72-acre Babson Creek Learning Forest contains ecologically important salt marsh habitats, connects valuable conservation corridors, and will provide broad, interdisciplinary educational opportunities, says TCS founding director Jasmine Smith.

“We are creating an outdoor learning laboratory that can be a resource for all island schools to study ecology,  explore a sense of place, practice art, and experience solitude and wonder,” Smith says.

TCS will own the property while MCHT holds an easement on all but two and a half acres adjacent to the school and along Sound Drive, limiting development in perpetuity. The acquisition is just the first step, Smith says, as both organizations continue to raise essential stewardship funds for building and improving trails, conducting a natural resource inventory, and developing plans for local school groups and teachers to utilize the forest as a shared educational resource.

The property includes forestland, alpine, salt marsh, vernal pool, and tidal creek environments. Protecting this range of ecological habitats fits directly into MCHT’s statewide Marshes for Tomorrow Initiative to conserve, restore, and steward undeveloped lands surrounding Maine’s environmentally important salt marshes, says MCHT Senior Project Manager Misha Mytar.

“From a number of perspectives, whether you care about fisheries, or you care about flood management, or you care about climate change, salt marshes are incredibly valuable, and very limited, and very threatened, both by development and by sea level rise,” Mytar says. “This property plays an important role in connecting larger tracts of conserved lands, ensuring that animals and plants can continue to move through the landscape as the environment changes.”

Mytar says that she is especially excited by this collaborative project, which serves not just an ecological function, but contains a strong educational component as well.

“One of the main things that MCHT is trying to do is to create opportunities for people who live along the Maine coast to feel connected to their landscape, to care about it, and to care for it. The Community School is making those connections in a really deep way, and with kids from a really young age,” Mytar says. “We’re excited about that.”

“We are extremely grateful for the previous owner, David Gilpatric, who gave us access to the land for special projects over the years.  We will appreciate, care for and share this unique place with others now, as its next stewards.” Smith says. 

One of the pillars of the TCS philosophy is to cultivate a sense of place, which, Smith says, benefits the broader community and the environment in turn. “Protecting the Babson Creek Learning Forest will create opportunities not only for our students, but for youth across Mount Desert Island and beyond to deepen their sense of place and stewardship for the special place where we live and learn.”

While there is no public access to the forest currently, plans are already in the works, Smith says. In collaboration with the bridge renovation on Sound Drive where it crosses the Babson Creek/Kittredge Brook outlet, there is an opportunity to connect the town of Somesville to where the Babson Creek Learning Forest begins. As the school works to build and improve trails on the property, there will be opportunities to offer access to the broader community.

About The Community School
The Community School is a pre-K-8 elementary and middle school that nurtures, challenges, and empowers children by engaging the local community and natural world as a classroom to creatively explore all subject areas through a holistic, Place-based curriculum. TCS fosters a sense of place, sense of self, and a love for learning in our children, so that they may live meaningful lives with a deep understanding and stewardship for our community and our world. Learn more at www.thecommunityschool.me.

About Maine Coast Heritage Trust

MCHT is a dynamic, multifaceted organization with initiatives ranging from preserving coastal access for communities to high impact ecological work focused on reconnecting waterways and improving coastal resiliency to climate change. A leader in Maine’s nationally renowned land conservation efforts since 1970, MCHT maintains a growing network of almost 150 coastal and island preserves free and open to everyone and leads the 80-member Maine Land Trust Network to ensure that land conservation provides benefits to all Maine communities. Get involved at www.mcht.org.