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Creating More Access to the Coast

“Back when I started clamming 45 years ago, there were 15 or so places where clammers could access flats in Brunswick. Now, there are just a few.” — David Toothaker

Throughout Maine, the need for more places to go outside is becoming increasingly evident—for our health, well-being, and livelihoods.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, in 2020, MCHT preserves and other conserved lands have seen more use than ever before. Many are finding respite and refuge on the Maine coast, deepening their connections with the land, and developing new interests and hobbies in the outdoors—and this trend is expected to continue.

People are also encountering too many full parking lots, and lands and infrastructure that cannot accommodate higher numbers of visitors.

We’re working to change that.

The Challenge

Development pressure, a hot real estate market, and the increasingly expensive cost of shorefront property make it imperative that we seize opportunities now to protect land and create more permanent public access to the coast.

Many who live, work, and play on the Maine coast have had the experience of encountering a “no trespassing” sign where they’ve previously skipped rocks, walked along the water, or harvested clams. It’s becoming clear that the longstanding Maine tradition of handshake deals between waterfront homeowners and their neighbors are not sufficient for the long term.

We need to secure permanent public access to the coast, and create places where all are welcome and feel safe to explore and enjoy the coast.

The data proves what we know through experience to be true: spending time outdoors is essential for our health and well-being, and for the health and well-being of our communities. Everyone should have opportunities to get outside and enjoy the beauty of the Maine coast, not just those who can afford shorefront property.

The Response

Clammers in The Bullpen in Brunswick

MCHT is working to create more coastal access for all by conserving shorefront property, opening it to the public, and seeking opportunities to create boat launches and other water access points for the public.

Thanks to donor support of MCHT’s most recent Campaign, which concluded in 2019 and raised $130 million for coastal conservation, and thanks to the many land trusts working to increase access to land on the coast, that number has grown in recent years.

The Maine Coastal Public Access Guide, published in 2013, is a comprehensive guide to publicly accessible shore sites along the coast of Maine. 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 decade.

MCHT doesn’t just protect land—we care for protected places and connect people to them. Our stewardship field staff work up and down the coast to care for land to make it more usable and accessible to people. We build and maintain trails, set up picnic benches in scenic spots, build boat launches and parking lots where appropriate.

Through ongoing programming, MCHT-sponsored field trips, and collaborations with local schools and other organizations, we also bring people outside to enjoy conserved lands.

Woodward Point in Brunswick

Conservation Examples

In 2021, MCHT protected two islands long visited and enjoyed by locals. Little Whaleboat Island in Casco Bay and Sheep Island in Penobscot Bay were at risk of being sold, developed, and shut off to public access, but donors stepped up to conserve them. Now they’ll be forever open to the public.

In 2019, MCHT  worked with local land trust Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust to protected more than 80 acres on Woodward Point in Brunswick, a peninsula flanked by mudflats at low tide. Through this conservation project, we guaranteed access for fishermen and protected the water quality of the New Meadows River. In 2018 and 2019, local clammers and oyster farmers voiced their support for the project. In the years since, the property has become a popular spot for locals to visit in every season, offering miles of trails with water views. In 2023, MCHT expects to finish construction of an accessible trail at Woodward Point.

In Owls Head, MCHT and the town worked together to create a shorefront park with a parking lot and public hand-carry boat launch, which allows for improved boat access for locals and visitors. This park is a stone’s throw from Monroe Island Preserve, a 220-acre island conserved for public access in 2018.

2017, MCHT helped the town of Lubec take its first steps towards creating a safe harbor for fishermen and recreational boaters by helping the town protect shorefront property that will be the site of a new working harbor. MCHT also assisted the town in securing Land for Maine’s Future funding for the project. Around this time, MCHT also conserved land at Bailey’s Mistake in Lubec, which offers water access for fishermen and the general public.

These are just a few of examples of recent MCHT projects to create more public access to the coast for all. On average, MCHT creates about five new public preserves every year, and completes roughly 30 conservation projects.

MCHT worked with the town of Owls Head to create a waterfront park with a hand-carry boat launch.

While much progress has been made, we still have a long way to go to secure critical public access to the coast. With MCHT and other land trusts currently leading the charge, ongoing donor support is critical. We invite you to help us on our mission to keep the coast open.