By Brian Kevin
From our February 2023 issue
Like many former adolescent daredevils who grew up around Blue Hill, Kate Stookey has fond memories of leaping off the town’s 1926 rainbow-arch bridge — and of shinnying up its bowed concrete for a view from the top. “Barefoot is best,” says the 51-year-old president and CEO of Maine Coast Heritage Trust, who this month marks a year on the job. “You just sort of hold on to the side with your hands and scurry up. It’s like climbing a palm tree.”
Alas, after carrying nearly a century’s worth of traffic over the reversing falls at the outlet of the town’s Salt Pond, the cracked and corroded bridge is being replaced this winter. Stookey is among those sad to see it go. “Every time I drive across the falls,” she says, “it’s like my landmark moment of, ‘I am home.’”
But she feels lucky when she thinks of all the sites from her childhood that have remained largely untouched — places like Tinker and Jed’s islands, in Blue Hill Bay, where she camped as a kid. “Back then, we would go for hikes and camp out and didn’t know if the land was private or public,” she recalls. “It was just available — we just had access to it.” Preserving that kind of access — in the face of increasing private ownership and development of Maine’s coast — is what her new job is all about; MCHT helped purchase and conserve Tinker and Jed’s, in 2001 and 2007, respectively, when private owners put them up for sale.
Stookey didn’t start her career in land conservation. When she headed to Brown University, in 1989, she envisioned becoming a diplomat, and she’s since worked for several nonprofit international development orgs, including three years in Azerbaijan refugee camps, coordinating infrastructure projects. But it was during a decade managing communications for a Maryland parks commission, outside DC, when it dawned on her that her lifelong love of the outdoors could be her job. “I didn’t realize you could actually do what you love the most professionally,” she says. Taking the reins of the state’s largest land trust has let her indulge her passion back in her home state. Even better, she says, “is making sure people can enjoy the same kind of childhood that I did.”
Headshot by Becca Casey