Cousins from Brunswick and Freeport play on Whaleboat Island Preserve before enjoying their first overnight camping experience on an island.
Cousins from Brunswick and Freeport play on Whaleboat Island Preserve before enjoying their first overnight camping experience on an island.

MCHT Preserves See More Use Than Ever Before

For Maine Coast Heritage Trust land stewards, a nine-to-five workday isn’t a common occurrence during field season. Weather, tides, boat sharing, volunteer availability—there’s lots of coordination involved, and flexibility is essential.

That said, it’s also not common for a land steward to fire up a boat on a Saturday evening to go check on island preserves, which is exactly what MCHT’s Southern Maine Regional Land Steward Caitlin Gerber found herself doing quite a bit this summer.

“I’ve never seen so many people out on Casco Bay and using our island preserves,” says Caitlin Gerber. “Just about every available campsite was in use on any given night and particularly on the weekends.” Caitlin would make the rounds on those Saturday nights, checking in on campers, ensuring fires were below the high tide mark, and explaining to some that camping is limited to designated sites.

“Spending time on the coast made this summer, which was otherwise challenging, an extraordinary one for my young daughters.”

Thankfully, the vast majority of visitors were respectful. She also encountered more problems than ever before, including (to name just a couple) uncontrolled dogs and left-behind waste. She seized the opportunity to educate preserve users in an op-ed in the local paper.

Earlier in the year, when COVID-19 hit, MCHT’s Land Trust Program Director Warren Whitney gathered a group from the conservation community and state resource agencies to create clear guidelines for safe and responsible use of conserved lands, which were shared across local land trust and state websites and various media outlets.

Across the state of Maine, conserved lands of all kinds saw more use than ever in 2020—from popular state parks to lesser-known community preserves. Andy Cutko, Director of the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands, says use of state parks was up through the summer and didn’t wane in September. “Campground use was 68% higher in September 2020 compared to September 2019,” he says. “Much of the increased use was by Mainers.”

“I hope that people who discovered land trust lands for the first time this year continue to get out and enjoy them.”

Of course, this increased use is largely due to the pandemic, which restricted travel and limited options for safe activities. To spend time with friends and family, fight off cabin fever, and find some much-needed social, emotional, and physical reprieve, people took to the outdoors. And what they found delighted them.

Lookout Rock in Brooksville, one of MCHT’s newer preserves, saw lots of use in 2020.

“Spending time on the coast made this summer, which was otherwise challenging, an extraordinary one for my young daughters,” says Courtney Reichert of Brunswick. “They spent countless hours swimming and playing on the shore.”

“I hope that people who discovered land trust lands for the first time this year continue to get out and enjoy them,” says Stewardship Director Jane Arbuckle. “And for our part, we will continue to look for opportunities to educate people about safe and responsible use.”

MCHT has been working for years to create more public access to the coast and has come a long way thanks to generous donors. Over the past six years, MCHT has played a leadership or supporting role in 60% of the new coastal access sites added in Maine.

Still, the need for more public access to the coast—and investments in stewardship to care for that land—is evident. Thankfully, through the trials and tribulations of this year, MCHT’s work to conserve extraordinary coastal lands and islands for public access and keep the coast open has not slowed down.

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