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MCHT Helps Create Majority of New Coastal Access Sites in Maine

Maine has roughly 3,500 miles of coastline, which is, by all measures, a lot. But it can start to feel like less and less as more traditional access sites get closed off to the public.

In the 1970s, when David Toothaker started clamming in Brunswick, there were well over a dozen places to access the flats. “Now,” he says, “we’re down to just a few.” This is a common story up and down the coast. As land changes ownership, “no trespassing” signs go up at places previously (if unofficially) open to visitors.

Maine Coast Heritage Trust and other land trusts are working to protect traditional coastal access sites and create more permanent public access to the coast. According to the data, we’ve come a long way in recent years.

The Maine Coastal Public Access Guide is a comprehensive guide to publicly accessible shore sites along the coast of Maine published in 2013. Coastal access sites in the guide include everything from small town-owned rights of way to Acadia National Park. Since the guide was published, Maine land trusts have been busy securing permanent access to additional sites along the coast. New MCHT preserves account for roughly 30% of the newly secured coastal access sites; and another 30% were partner projects, where MCHT played some role in supporting a town or local land trust’s effort to conserve a special place. That means MCHT had a hand in over half of the newly protected coastal access sites added in Maine over the past seven years.

This in no small part due to the thousands of donors who stepped up during MCHT’s recent campaign, which kicked off in 2014, concluded at the end of 2019, and resulted in the protection of 11,000 coastal acres and the creation of 36 new public preserves. The types of permanent coastal access created during the Campaign varies greatly—from a downtown pocket park and boat launch in Stonington to Brooklin’s Harriman Point Preserve encompassing nearly two miles of shoreline.

“In some cases, a project that’s small in acres can have the biggest impact in a community,” says MCHT Director of Land Protection Betsy Ham. “In Lubec, the conservation of an 11-acre site at Bailey’s Mistake protected and improved traditional access for local fisherman. When the new water access site is complete, it will also offer the only good location for recreational paddlers to put in along a 30-miles stretch of the Bold Coast.”

Public access to the coast relies on a variety of access types owned and managed by different levels of government as well as land trusts and other private entities. Each plays an essential role in the effort to keep the coast Maine, but we’re seeing a significant trend. Twenty years ago, MCHT projects and partner projects made up roughly 10% of the total number of publicly accessible shore sites along the coast of Maine. Today, land trusts own and manage 46% of those sites.

“Land trusts are playing an increasingly important role in the effort to create more public access to the coast of Maine,” says MCHT President Tim Glidden. “This is important work that so many Mainers can get behind. We look forward to continuing to work with landowners, towns, and fellow land trusts to keep the coast open.”

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