HARPSWELL, Maine — Neighbors of Stover’s Point, a sand-and-gravel spit of land jutting off of Harpswell Neck, are not happy.
They say the Stover’s Point Preserve, owned by the Harpswell Heritage Land Trust, has become a hotbed of late-night parties, drug use, bonfires and off-roading.
“It’s just disgusting,” said Billie Cereste, of nearby Eider Road, at a land trust meeting Aug. 20. “That’s not how you want to feel about something that’s supposed to be protected.”
The land trust convened the meeting at the Harpswell Coastal Academy to address what Executive Director Reed Coles called “considerably intensifying” complaints about the property.
“This is a space to discuss these issues, and see what we can do,” he told the crowd of about 50 people who packed the school gymnasium.
In response, residents spent nearly two hours documenting abuses on the piece of land that they say has figuratively, and literally, “gone to the dogs.”
One woman told Coles she had been attacked three times by off-leash dogs, and witnessed even more dog fights on the beach.
Under the land trust’s guidelines, dogs are allowed on the property as long as they are under their “owner’s control.”
She said dogs often run without their owner’s vocal control or even presence.
“Are the dogs’ owners there?” she asked. “Hell no. They’re probably in jail. Those damn dogs are running wild.”
Bertie Smith, who lives on Stover’s Point Road, said she often finds condoms and dirty diapers when she walks on the beach.
At night, she says, “caravans of trucks” roll down to the beach between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m.
Once, she said, “somebody even parked in my driveway.”
Several people said they’ve heard parties going on late into the night, and often find people sleeping on the beach the next morning.
“There are people down there sleeping, there are people down there smoking pot,” one woman said.
But the vices are not just limited to the point’s nocturnal visitors, neighbors said.
During the day, residents said the beach and its sheltered salt marsh are inundated.
Citing the ecological importance of salt marshes for marine life, Judith Redwine, of Eider Road, expressed concern about the number of people and children who swim in the marsh.
“Any of us who have kids know what happens to kids in water,” she said. “[There is] excrement in the water … the marsh is going to deteriorate.”
“Stover’s Point says preserve in its name, so let’s preserve it,” she added.
Another neighbor compared a recent crowded day to Coney Island, and echoed Redwine’s concern about contamination.
“Is the board of health testing that water?” she asked. “We all know what’s going on in [there].”
“I’m not suggesting we don’t want people enjoying it,” she added. “… But how many people?”
Redwine said she recently counted as many as 40 cars parked on the property at one time.
Even as neighbors expressed outrage over the alleged abuses, they said they are disappointed at how the land trust and law enforcement have handled their complaints.
Redwine thanked Coles for holding the meeting, but said it was “two to three years” overdue.
“The beach has just been used more and more and more,” she said.
Neighbors also said they are frustrated at a lack of options; several said calls to the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office were often treated apathetically, or with officers showing up long after trespassers had left.
Deputy Sheriff Stephen Welsh attended the meeting, and listened to residents’ concerns. He urged them to call the sheriff’s office whenever they see violations, and especially if they feel threatened.
Welsh also recommended the land trust update its guidelines and post better signs.
“Get what’s on the signs clear,” he said. “If [an activity] is an obvious violation, we can enforce it [on private property].
“I can also put out to patrol deputies that the land trust wants special attention at [Stover’s Point],” Welsh said.
But he also warned that only one deputy patrols Harpswell at night, and calls for incidents like domestic disturbances would always take priority. Nobody patrols between 3 a.m. and 7 a.m., he said.
Also, because the CCSO covers such a wide area, an officer responding to a Harpswell resident’s call may be as far away as Sebago, Welsh added.
But he was sympathetic to the neighbors’ concerns.
“In today’s society, trying to enforce laws … I’m running uphill, and I’m not getting very far,” he said.
Coles said he would compile the comments from the meeting and send an email update with an action plan in the coming weeks.
After the meeting, about 10 people expressed interest in serving on a “Friends of Stover’s Point” advisory group, to “help us understand what’s happening there and stay in touch with the community,” HHLT Outreach Coordinator Julia McLeod said.
McLeod said the land trust’s stewardship committee would review the existing guidelines before posting new signs.
“I expect some of those [rules] are going to change, or additional ones will be added,” she said.
In a phone interview Monday, McLeod said, “I’m really glad that we held the meeting. … Several people since then have reached out to say thank you for holding the meeting and listening to [their] concerns.”
“I’m impressed by how many people came and really care about that property … it’s a beautiful spot,” she added. “Hopefully between us and the sheriff we can help to address some of those issues.”