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Treasured Islands

Maine’s wild islands number in the thousands and are among the state’s crown jewels — and now more than ever, their conservation is key to preserving Maine’s essence.

PHOTOGRAPH BY BRIDGET BESAW

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Treasured Islands

PHOTOGRAPH BY BRIDGET BESAW

Maine’s wild islands number in the thousands and are among the state’s crown jewels — and now more than ever, their conservation is key to preserving Maine’s essence.

Judy Marsh can’t remember a time when the Goslings Islands weren’t her go-to getaway. As a kid, she picnicked and camped there, watched seals sun themselves on rocky ledges, swam from the sandbar that emerges between the islands at low tide, and savored a world-away feeling, just a 15-minute skiff ride from the Town of Brunswick’s Mere Point boat launch and her family’s business, Paul’s Marina.

Over the years, the islands’ owners graciously allowed paddlers, fishermen, and sailors to freely use them. Most people — including Marsh — never imagined that the Goslings could one day be developed and made off-limits.

Maine Coast Heritage Trust

So in 2014, when Marsh learned that the Goslings were for sale, and that Maine Coast Heritage Trust was working to buy and preserve them, she immediately joined the effort. “There are so many Maine islands that people have bought and then put up ‘No Trespassing’ signs,” Marsh says. “I hated the thought that this could happen at a place so many people loved.”

MCHT raised $1 million to conserve the Goslings, with the help of a grant from the state’s Land for Maine’s Future program, generous foundations and individuals, and a shoebox stuffed with $22,000 in cash, checks, and spare change, which Marsh collected through a raft of fundraisers.

The Goslings are among the more than 300 islands that MCHT has protected as part of its sweeping effort to conserve Maine’s coast. Of all Maine’s natural treasures, its 2,400 islands are viewed by many as its crown jewels. In addition to offering one-of-a-kind adventures, these unspoiled outposts provide critical habitat for plants and wildlife and hold important clues about Maine’s past that aren’t available anywhere else. What’s more, the islands provide the iconic vistas that make Maine such a beautiful place to visit and live.

“Having undeveloped islands where plants and wildlife can thrive and that people can enjoy is essential to the very character of Maine,” says state historian Earle G. Shettleworth Jr. “The work Maine Coast Heritage Trust is doing is so important.”

While other nonprofits support year-round island communities or make handshake agreements with island owners to allow recreational use, MCHT is the leader in owning and managing islands as public preserves — often partnering with landowners, government agencies, and local groups to do so. MCHT then provides ongoing stewardship of the islands, creating and caring for trails, campsites, and kiosks, removing invasive plants, keeping beaches clean, and bringing people out to enjoy the islands.

Now in its fiftieth year of conserving Maine’s coast, MCHT is continuing its work in earnest to save dozens of additional island gems threatened by development and climate change impacts while there’s still time.

“Our work to preserve islands has never been more critical,” says Jane Arbuckle, the trust’s director of stewardship. “As sea levels rise, and development continues, our work ensures that birds and wildlife have places of refuge on the coast, and that these majestic places remain open so that the public can continue to enjoy them, just as they have for generations.”

Judy Marsh can’t remember a time when the Goslings Islands weren’t her go-to getaway. As a kid, she picnicked and camped there, watched seals sun themselves on rocky ledges, swam from the sandbar that emerges between the islands at low tide, and savored a world-away feeling, just a 15-minute skiff ride from the Town of Brunswick’s Mere Point boat launch and her family’s business, Paul’s Marina.

Over the years, the islands’ owners graciously allowed paddlers, fishermen, and sailors to freely use them. Most people — including Marsh — never imagined that the Goslings could one day be developed and made off-limits.

So in 2014, when Marsh learned that the Goslings were for sale, and that Maine Coast Heritage Trust was working to buy and preserve them, she immediately joined the effort. “There are so many Maine islands that people have bought and then put up ‘No Trespassing’ signs,” Marsh says. “I hated the thought that this could happen at a place so many people loved.”

MCHT raised $1 million to conserve the Goslings, with the help of a grant from the state’s Land for Maine’s Future program, generous foundations and individuals, and a shoebox stuffed with $22,000 in cash, checks, and spare change, which Marsh collected through a raft of fundraisers.

The Goslings are among the more than 300 islands that MCHT has protected as part of its sweeping effort to conserve Maine’s coast. Of all Maine’s natural treasures, its 2,400 islands are viewed by many as its crown jewels. In addition to offering one-of-a-kind adventures, these unspoiled outposts provide critical habitat for plants and wildlife and hold important clues about Maine’s past that aren’t available anywhere else. What’s more, the islands provide the iconic vistas that make Maine such a beautiful place to visit and live.

“Having undeveloped islands where plants and wildlife can thrive and that people can enjoy is essential to the very character of Maine,” says state historian Earle G. Shettleworth Jr. “The work Maine Coast Heritage Trust is doing is so important.”

While other nonprofits support year-round island communities or make handshake agreements with island owners to allow recreational use, MCHT is the leader in owning and managing islands as public preserves — often partnering with landowners, government agencies, and local groups to do so. MCHT then provides ongoing stewardship of the islands, creating and caring for trails, campsites, and kiosks, removing invasive plants, keeping beaches clean, and bringing people out to enjoy the islands.

Now in its fiftieth year of conserving Maine’s coast, MCHT is continuing its work in earnest to save dozens of additional island gems threatened by development and climate change impacts while there’s still time.

“Our work to preserve islands has never been more critical,” says Jane Arbuckle, the trust’s director of stewardship. “As sea levels rise, and development continues, our work ensures that birds and wildlife have places of refuge on the coast, and that these majestic places remain open so that the public can continue to enjoy them, just as they have for generations.”

Maine Coast Heritage Trust

Why Islands Matter

By conserving more than 300 islands, Maine Coast Heritage Trust is saving a critical part of Maine’s heritage, invaluable wildlife habitat, and the breathtaking landscapes that make this an enviable place to live and visit.
Maine Island

ILLUSTRATION BY JOHN S. DYKES

Why Islands Matter

By conserving more than 300 islands, Maine Coast Heritage Trust is saving a critical part of Maine’s heritage, invaluable wildlife habitat, and the breathtaking landscapes that make this an enviable place to live and visit.

GREAT FOR GRAZING

For centuries, farmers have brought sheep out to islands, where they can graze safe from predators like foxes, coyotes, and bobcats. This frees up fertile ground on the mainland for other crops. (Look at any map of the Maine coast and you’ll be bound to see several islands named “Ram” or “Sheep.”)

LIVING HISTORY

Soils on the islands, rich in shell fragments, help preserve old tools made from bone by indigenous visitors and settlers, says Arthur Spiess, senior archeologist for the Maine Historic Preservation Commission. Tools like fishing-spear points and sewing devices, and the bones of animals caught then, help us discern what people were harvesting, hunting, and fishing thousands of years ago. “These ecological records are really valuable,” Spiess says. “We can use all that information to reconstruct Native American settlements and learn how they made their living.”

SPECTACULAR SCENERY

Hundreds of Maine’s coastal islands are within a half-mile of public vantage points, and their unspoiled splendor is a key part of the Maine mystique. Once homes, subdivisions, and No Trespassing signs go up on Maine’s unprotected islands, this beauty is forever diminished.
ILLUSTRATION BY JOHN S. DYKES

IMPORTANT OUTPOSTS

For thousands of years, reminds state historian Earle G. Shettleworth Jr., the ocean was humanity’s watery highway and the islands its rest stops. Native Americans valued islands for their proximity to fishing grounds, as did the English and French in the 17th and 18th centuries. Whole industries once flourished on some islands, with timber harvested for shipbuilding and quarries yielding granite for monuments and buildings in the cities. Remnants of all these uses are still preserved on the islands today.

OUTDOOR ADVENTURES

With more islands than any other state in the continental U.S. — many of them no more than a couple of miles from a mainland public boat launch — the state is an eden for fishermen, pleasure boaters, and open-water paddlers.

BIRDING BONANZAS

Maine has more seabird nesting islands than any other Atlantic-coast state, says National Audubon Society biologist Dr. Stephen Kress. On remote islands, puffins, razorbills, and black guillemots build nests in rocky crevices, safe from predators like foxes and bobcats, and forage for fish in nearby waters. For migrating birds, like warblers, islands offer stopover locations where they can refuel on insects, berries, and seeds to power their winter migrations to the tropics. “When we protect the islands,” Kress says, “we protect all these birds.”

GREAT FOR GRAZING

For centuries, farmers have brought sheep out to islands, where they can graze safe from predators like foxes, coyotes, and bobcats. This frees up fertile ground on the mainland for other crops. (Look at any map of the Maine coast and you’ll be bound to see several islands named “Ram” or “Sheep.”)

IMPORTANT OUTPOSTS

For thousands of years, reminds state historian Earle G. Shettleworth Jr., the ocean was humanity’s watery highway and the islands its rest stops. Native Americans valued islands for their proximity to fishing grounds, as did the English and French in the 17th and 18th centuries. Whole industries once flourished on some islands, with timber harvested for shipbuilding and quarries yielding granite for monuments and buildings in the cities. Remnants of all these uses are still preserved on the islands today.

SAFE HAVENS IN THE FACE OF CLIMATE CHANGE

Over the next century, as rising sea levels make hundreds of low-lying islands intertidal — disrupting habitat for rare plants and nesting birds, putting precious seal pupping grounds and landing beaches underwater — conserved islands will become even more valuable.

OUTDOOR ADVENTURES

With more islands than any other state in the continental U.S. — many of them no more than a couple of miles from a mainland public boat launch — the state is an eden for fishermen, pleasure boaters, and open-water paddlers.

Island Rescue

High Island, which sits at the mouth of Tenants Harbor in St. George, has easy landing beaches and rocky ledges with gaping vistas that take in Matinicus Island. “It’s a portal to a big, wild place,” says Amanda Devine, MCHT’s regional land steward, “but it’s friendly and accessible.”

For decades, owners of the 20-acre island hosted a 4-H Camp and allowed anyone to paddle and hike there. In 1994, knowing public access may not last forever, MCHT officials approached the island’s owners about some form of permanent conservation. They weren’t ready, but in 2014, that initial outreach bore fruit. The family offered to sell High Island to MCHT for $650,000 — far less than they could have fetched from a developer.

The land trust’s work was just beginning. MCHT rallied locals around the project, arranged field trips to the island, spearheaded fundraising, and approached town officials for support. In 2016, the Town of St. George approved a $25,000 allocation to help MCHT secure a grant to make the purchase.

The success came as a relief to residents who didn’t want to lose their island getaway — even those like Anita Siegenthaler, who isn’t a boater. “So often, when public access gets cut off,” she says, “beautiful landscapes become unlivable.”

The High Island project illustrates the role MCHT often plays in convening stakeholders around a conservation goal. The trust connects with landowners who want to sell, residents who want to keep natural areas open, and local, state, and federal agencies that don’t have the capacity to buy and steward new open spaces. Once land is purchased, MCHT makes and keeps the preserve safe and accessible, extracting invasive species, building trails, removing dilapidated structures, and putting up interpretive kiosks. Often, the group works closely with local champions who help build community support — in the case of High Island, a retired educator and passionate conservationist named Les Hyde led the charge.

High Island set the stage for other MCHT projects in the St. George area, including the Bamford Preserve and Meadow Brook Estuary. Today, the trust is working to raise $4.8 million to buy 120 acres on Clark Island, which is connected to the mainland by a causeway. This work is critical, Siegenthaler believes, to safeguard what makes the peninsula special.

“Maine is going to be a loser in the long run if its natural character is not conserved,” she says. “It’s happened in other places. There’s nothing to prevent it from happening here unless we intentionally protect it.”

All numbers provided by Maine Coast Heritage Trust.

BIRDING BONANZAS

Maine has more seabird nesting islands than any other Atlantic-coast state, says National Audubon Society biologist Dr. Stephen Kress. On remote islands, puffins, razorbills, and black guillemots build nests in rocky crevices, safe from predators like foxes and bobcats, and forage for fish in nearby waters. For migrating birds, like warblers, islands offer stopover locations where they can refuel on insects, berries, and seeds to power their winter migrations to the tropics. “When we protect the islands,” Kress says, “we protect all these birds.”

LIVING HISTORY

Soils on the islands, rich in shell fragments, help preserve old tools made from bone by indigenous visitors and settlers, says Arthur Spiess, senior archeologist for the Maine Historic Preservation Commission. Tools like fishing-spear points and sewing devices, and the bones of animals caught then, help us discern what people were harvesting, hunting, and fishing thousands of years ago. “These ecological records are really valuable,” Spiess says. “We can use all that information to reconstruct Native American settlements and learn how they made their living.”

SPECTACULAR SCENERY

Hundreds of Maine’s coastal islands are within a half-mile of public vantage points, and their unspoiled splendor is a key part of the Maine mystique. Once homes, subdivisions, and No Trespassing signs go up on Maine’s unprotected islands, this beauty is forever diminished.

Island Itinerary

Find an adventure for every occasion among MCHT’s island preserves.
Maine Coast Heritage Trust

WHERE TO GO IF YOU . . .

Don't have a boat

Frenchboro Long Island, in Blue Hill Bay
Kiosk

WHAT IT OFFERS: A 50-minute ferry ride from MDI, this 1,159-acre preserve of spruces, bluffs, and secluded beaches and 10 miles of hiking trails share an island with nearly 50 year-round residents Don’t miss the village’s 58th annual Lobster Dinner on August 10.

GETTING THERE: The Maine State Ferry offers limited same-day round-trip service from Bass Harbor. Check the schedule at maine.gov/mdot/ferry.

ORIGIN STORY: Partnering with the Town of Frenchboro, Island Institute, and Maine Seacoast Mission, MCHT raised $3 million to conserve most of the land in 2000 and added a second parcel in 2011.

Have little ones along

Pond Island, off Cape Rosier
Quarry

WHAT IT OFFERS: With its short hiking trail, a meadow perfect for picnics, and beaches and tidepools aplenty, this 32-acre island has plenty for pint-size adventurers to explore.

GETTING THERE: Launch from the Castine Town Dock or the Bridge End boat launch on Little Deer Isle.

ORIGIN STORY: In 1980, following a fundraising effort by area residents, the island was purchased by Philadelphia Conservationists, Inc. and transferred in 1995 to MCHT.

Want to see wildlife

Marshall Island, in Jericho Bay
Eagle

WHAT IT OFFERS: Spot a variety of songbirds, including Swainson’s thrushes, vireos, and several species of warblers, along with seabirds like purple sandpipers, guillemots, and bald eagles. Watch for seals sunning on rocky ledges.

GETTING THERE: Launch from the public boat ramp in Bass Harbor. Or launch from Old Quarry Ocean Adventures in Stonington. The outfitter offers paddling tours.

ORIGIN STORY: In the ’80s, a developer won approval for a subdivision (with an airstrip!). The investment soured, and in 2003, MCHT bought the property with help from generous donors, and Land for Maine’s Future grants.

Want an island camping getaway

Whaleboat Island, in Casco Bay
Camping

WHAT IT OFFERS: At 122 acres, Whaleboat is Casco Bay’s largest wild island. Camping is first come first serve at the meadow and western shore sites and by reservation at the northwest site.

GETTING THERE: Launch from the public boat ramp at Winslow Park in Freeport.

ORIGIN STORY: MCHT acquired the island in 2002, assisted by donations from residents and funding from Land for Maine’s Future.

Want a history lesson

Malaga Island, in Casco Bay
Kiosk

WHAT IT OFFERS: Mixed-race residents of this island were cruelly evicted by the state in 1912. Thousands of artifacts researchers found there helped uncover this ugly chapter of Maine history.

GETTING THERE: Launch from Bethel Point Ramp in Harpswell, though parking is limited. Seaspray Kayaking and Alice’s Awesome Adventures in Brunswick offer tours.

ORIGIN STORY: MCHT purchased the island in 2001 and manages it for daytime recreation and wildlife habitat.

Don't want to see another soul

Shabbit Island, in Wohoa Bay
Eagle

WHAT IT OFFERS: This partially forested, 3-acre island offers two sand beaches, grassy knolls, and scenic granite ledges — plenty of space to picnic, see wildlife, and relax. Within a 5-mile radius are 16 other conserved islands.

GETTING THERE: Launch at Addison’s town-owned beach or from the paved ramp on Eastern Harbor.

ORIGIN STORY: MCHT acquired the island in 2009.

Don't have a boat

Frenchboro Long Island, in Blue Hill Bay

HikeWHAT IT OFFERS: A 50-minute ferry ride from MDI, this 1,159-acre preserve of spruces, bluffs, and secluded beaches and 10 miles of hiking trails share an island with nearly 50 year-round residents Don’t miss the village’s 58th annual Lobster Dinner on August 10.

GETTING THERE: The Maine State Ferry offers limited same-day round-trip service from Bass Harbor. Check the schedule at maine.gov/mdot/ferry.

ORIGIN STORY: Partnering with the Town of Frenchboro, Island Institute, and Maine Seacoast Mission, MCHT raised $3 million to conserve most of the land in 2000 and added a second parcel in 2011.

Have little ones along

Pond Island, off Cape Rosier

QuarryWHAT IT OFFERS: With its short hiking trail, a meadow perfect for picnics, and beaches and tidepools aplenty, this 32-acre island has plenty for pint-size adventurers to explore.

GETTING THERE: Launch from the Castine Town Dock or the Bridge End boat launch on Little Deer Isle.

ORIGIN STORY: In 1980, following a fundraising effort by area residents, the island was purchased by Philadelphia Conservationists, Inc. and transferred in 1995 to MCHT.

Want to see wildlife

Marshall Island, in Jericho Bay

EagleWHAT IT OFFERS: Spot a variety of songbirds, including Swainson’s thrushes, vireos, and several species of warblers, along with seabirds like purple sandpipers, guillemots, and bald eagles. Watch for seals sunning on rocky ledges.

GETTING THERE: Launch from the public boat ramp in Bass Harbor. Or launch from Old Quarry Ocean Adventures in Stonington. The outfitter offers paddling tours.

ORIGIN STORY: In the ’80s, a developer won approval for a subdivision (with an airstrip!). The investment soured, and in 2003, MCHT bought the property with help from generous donors, and Land for Maine’s Future grants.

Want an island camping getaway

Whaleboat Island, in Casco Bay

CampingWHAT IT OFFERS: At 122 acres, Whaleboat is Casco Bay’s largest wild island. Camping is first come first serve at the meadow and western shore sites and by reservation at the northwest site.

GETTING THERE: Launch from the public boat ramp at Winslow Park in Freeport.

ORIGIN STORY: MCHT acquired the island in 2002, assisted by donations from residents and funding from Land for Maine’s Future.

Want a history lesson

Malaga Island, in Casco Bay

KioskWHAT IT OFFERS: Mixed-race residents of this island were cruelly evicted by the state in 1912. Thousands of artifacts researchers found there helped uncover this ugly chapter of Maine history.

GETTING THERE: Launch from Bethel Point Ramp in Harpswell, though parking is limited. Seaspray Kayaking and Alice’s Awesome Adventures in Brunswick offer tours.

ORIGIN STORY: MCHT purchased the island in 2001 and manages it for daytime recreation and wildlife habitat.

Don't want to see another soul

Shabbit Island, in Wohoa Bay

KayakWHAT IT OFFERS: This partially forested, 3-acre island offers two sand beaches, grassy knolls, and scenic granite ledges — plenty of space to picnic, see wildlife, and relax. Within a 5-mile radius are 16 other conserved islands.

GETTING THERE: Launch at Addison’s town-owned beach or from the paved ramp on Eastern Harbor.

ORIGIN STORY: MCHT acquired the island in 2009.

Win Two Nights on Secluded Saddleback Island!

One of the largest islands in the Merchant Row archipelago, just off Stonington, Saddleback Island has 78 stunning acres of sandy beaches, quiet forest trails, and smooth granite ledges, plus a cozy cabin with a huge fieldstone fireplace. Want to escape there with three of your favorite people?

Enter to win a three-day, two-night stay at Maine Coast Heritage Trust’s Saddleback Island Preserve in the summer of 2020. You pick the dates, and Captain Bill Baker, of Old Quarry Ocean Adventures in Stonington, will handle boat transportation.

Visit mcht.org/downeast for details and an entry form. Submit your name and email, and we’ll pick the winner at random at the end of the summer!

Win Two Nights on Secluded Saddleback Island!

One of the largest islands in the Merchant Row archipelago, just off Stonington, Saddleback Island has 78 stunning acres of sandy beaches, quiet forest trails, and smooth granite ledges, plus a cozy cabin with a huge fieldstone fireplace. Want to escape there with three of your favorite people?

Enter to win a three-day, two-night stay at Maine Coast Heritage Trust’s Saddleback Island Preserve in the summer of 2020. You pick the dates, and Captain Bill Baker, of Old Quarry Ocean Adventures in Stonington, will handle boat transportation.

Visit mcht.org/downeast for details and an entry form. Submit your name and email, and we’ll pick the winner at random at the end of the summer!

FIELD TRIPS

This summer, join MCHT staff and other island lovers to explore the coast. To register, go to mcht.org/downeast.
MCHT conserved 225-acre Monroe Island off Owl’s Head in 2018. Photographed by Ken Woisard Photography.

JUNE 29

Marshall Island Hike
Join MCHT staff and supporters to explore one of the largest undeveloped islands on the eastern seaboard. The trip departs from the Bass Harbor Ferry Terminal on Mount Desert Island. It includes a one-hour boat ride to the island, a picnic lunch, and a 5-mile hike to explore the rugged wooded shoreline paths, open meadows, rocky coves, and its spectacular beach— one of the most remote in Maine!

JULY 21

Monroe Island Celebration
Get a look at MCHT’s newest midcoast preserve — a 225-acre island, one of the largest undeveloped islands on the midcoast. Explore beaches, spruce forests, rambling meadows, and ponds; enjoy a picnic on the north end; and take in spectacular views of Camden Hills and Penobscot Bay. Catch a shuttle with MCHT from Owls Head Harbor, or paddle over to join the celebration.

AUGUST 17

Clark Island Open House, St. George
Join MCHT to see this idyllic rockbound refuge, that is connected by a causeway to mainland St. George. MCHT is partnering with the current landowners to raise the funds that would permanently protect 120 acres on this island, and ensure public access to its sandy beaches, tide pools, and trails. Explore the island on your own, or take a guided tour with MCHT!

Island Etiquette

Heading to one of MCHT’s island preserves?

Use your Leave No Trace know-how: take only pictures, leave only footprints. Some special island rules apply. BE WILDLIFE AWARE. Find out about the nesting birds, sensitive fauna, and other wildlife areas on the island before you go. Some preserves are closed in nesting season. Give seals, birds, and other animals a wide berth. CHECK ABOUT PETS. Some MCHT islands allow pets under leash or strict voice control; others prohibit pets altogether. Look at the rules before you go. PACK OUT THE TRASH. Bring bags to carry out your trash, and pick up litter while you’re there. BE FIRE SAFE. Maine law requires a permit for open fires. Contact Maine State Forest Service to obtain one at 800-750-9777. Keep all fires below the high-tide line. Do not build your own fire ring — use one on-site. Completely extinguish all fires with water. DON’T DISTURB THE ARTIFACTS. Many sites have archeological artifacts. Leave them where they are. CHECK THE SPECIFICS. Each preserve has unique guidelines for public use. Before your excursion, explore mcht.org/downeast, and refer to the kiosks on the islands.

Maine Islands
Photographed by Rich Knox.
Maine Coast Heritage Trust

Support MCHT!

Thanks to the generosity of the thousands of donors who give to protect and care for Maine’s coast, all of Maine Coast Heritage Trust’s preserves are free, open to the public, and waiting to be explored. If you’d like to join the community of people helping to keep Maine’s coast healthy, beautiful, and open to all, visit mcht.org/downeast to learn more and make a gift to MCHT today.
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