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May 17, 2018

Maine Coast Heritage Trust launches campaign to buy midcoast island

Courtesy: Maine Coast Heritage Trust / Ken Woisard Photography
Courtesy: Maine Coast Heritage Trust / Ken Woisard Photography
Maine Coast Heritage Trust, a statewide land conservation organization, is working to assure permanent public access to the majority of 175-acre Clark Island in St. George. MCHT has entered into an option agreement with the current landowners, which gives it until March of 2020 to raise the $4.4 million required to purchase and assure its long-term future as a public preserve.

Maine Coast Heritage Trust has launched a $4.4 million campaign to buy the 175-acre Clark Island, off the St. George peninsula.

"It's one of the only large, relatively undeveloped islands that is accessible by foot anywhere in the western or southern part of the Maine coast," Steve Walker, a Maine Coast Heritage Trust project manager, told the Bangor Daily News.

A sales agreement with the current owners, the Nickerson family, would preserve 126 acres for public use, with the family keeping the remaining acreage and their family home. The $4.4 million is MCHT's largest fundraising campaign.

According to an MCHT news release, Clark is one of Maine's rare islands connected by a causeway, similar to Mackworth Island in Falmouth and Sears Island in Searsport. Clark Island's owners have already allowed visitors to the island for decades. The purchase would secure permanent public access.

MCHT entered into an option agreement in the fall of 2017. MCHT has set a deadline of March 2020 to raise the $4.4 million.

Preserving a 'recreational asset'

"Beyond ensuring people will always have access to this special place, conservation of Clark Island would be a boon for the incredible diversity of wildlife currently seeking refuge here," the release says. "Many of the natural community types, including intertidal salt marshes, mudflats, and beaches, are designated as Significant Wildlife Habitat by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife."

The island is now mostly undeveloped, but settlements date back to the 1780s.

"This area would be a wonderful recreational asset for the townspeople," St. George Head Selectman Richard Bates said in the release.

In January, Joanne O'Shea, owner of the nearby Craignair Inn & Restaurant, told the St. George Dragon that she supported the conservation effort because it benefits her customers and her business.

"Many of our return guests stay with us specifically because of the beauty and diversity the island offers," she said. The island has been a destination for those seeking unique midcoast recreational experiences.

MCHT is a statewide land conservation organization. In March, MCHT President Tim Glidden noted that Maine's land trust community sometimes comes up against the state's tradition of rugged individualism and aversion to collective action.

"If those who depend on open land and access aren't part of the conversation, Maine simply won't be able to surmount the challenges posed by climate change and increased development pressure," he said. "The land trust community is in a unique position to work with Mainers of all stripes to set priorities and figure out how to meet these complex challenges."

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