by George Smith
A few hundred yards from Monica’s Chocolates in Lubec, my compass point, and tucked up behind the water treatment plant, Linda and I discovered one of the hundreds of special places in Maine that have been purchased by conservation interests.
This one was a surprise. We were taking a driving tour of the south end of the town and pulled in to the treatment plant parking lot to turn around when we saw the “Quoddy Trails” sign. Turns out this was purchased for you and me by our Land for Maine’s Future program.
The boardwalk led to a huge sandbar and beach and then meandered through the adjacent wetland.
We’d set out that morning from our rental cabin at Island Chalet on Campobello Island, a bit of Canadian paradise, to explore the Boot Head preserve’s birding trail suggested in Bob Duchesne’s Maine Birding Trail guide book. We were delayed in getting to Boot Head by all the birds behind the water treatment plant.
The previous week, we’d been birding on another spectacular trail in our Kennebec County back yard.
The Mountain Trail just north of Belgrade Village on Route 27 is the first parcel acquired by the Belgrade Regional Conservation Alliance as it began to accumulate, with help from Land for Maine’s Future and other funding sources, the magnificent 5,000-acre Kennebec Highlands.
This trail is scenic, has lots of birds and is easy walking. We’d selected it because Duchesne’s guidebook reported scarlet tanagers here and we’d seen none this year. Two hundred yards up the trail, there they were.
Maine’s conservation lands are playing an increasing role in my life, for several reasons.
First, they’re some of the most spectacular places in our state.
Second, many have trails and other infrastructure (such as access to the water).
Third, access to private land is becoming more difficult and contentious and now requires, in most places, that we obtain permission before entering or using the land. Much of Maine’s private land is now posted and not available for public recreation.
The Maine tradition of accessing private land for our private recreational use is coming to an end. In fact, we are beginning to see recreational property leased for private use, something that is common in other states, and this change in the way Mainers traditionally use private land will be another driver of the on-going effort to buy and conserve the state’s most special places.
Some in Maine think the state already owns too much land, and some small rural communities lose significant tax revenue when private lands are purchased by state and other conservation interests. But so far, the Legislature has rejected attempts to significantly limit conservation land purchases.
The major battle continues in Washington County, including Lubec, where, without a doubt, there is a lot of conservation land. Linda and I enjoyed some of that conservation land on our recent trip.
Duchesne, Maine’s pre-eminent birding guide and a Maine legislator, guided our family one morning to a number of good birding spots in Campobello and Lubec.
But it was on the sandbar in South Lubec, splashing along in our L.L. Bean wellies within sight of the place my Mom grew up and only a short ways from West Quoddy Head Light, where my grandfather Ephraim Johnson kept the light for three decades, that Linda and I reached Birders’s Nirvana.
Bob claimed the sandbar was the best place in Maine to see migrating shorebirds, and he did not exaggerate. The Nature Conservancy bought the sandbar and it is now in the ownership of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. But the birds rent space there, by the thousands, from early August to mid-September, on their way south.
We spotted, with Bob’s help, an amazing array of shorebirds. I wished so much my mother were alive so I could ask her: Did you know what an amazing place this is when you were growing up here? Did you notice all these birds?
We finally made it to Boot Head, another conservation gem purchased and protected by Maine Coast Heritage Trust. It’s a 690-acre preserve encompassing spruce/fir forest, peat bog, rocky coast and a gorgeous pebble beach. From the cliffs of Boot Head, well, let me just say it’s jaw-dropping beautiful. And of course, full of birds.
I’m thankful to Maine’s conservation community for protecting these very special places, and making them available to me. And I am especially mindful of what a blessing this will be to my kids, grandkids and others in the future.
George Smith is executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine.