Clark Island in St. George is one of several properties that Maine Coast Heritage Trust is currently working towards conserving. They're working to raise $4.8 million by March of 2020 to purchase the majority of the island and open it to public access. Credit: Courtesy of Maine Coast Heritage | Courtesy of Maine Coast Heritage

Maine Coast Heritage Trust announced Wednesday a goal of raising $125 million by the end of 2019 for what the organization calls the largest coastal conservation effort in Maine’s history.

The campaign will fund a wide range of coastal conservation projects, with an emphasis on improving public access to the Maine coast, and conserving important coastal habitats that are threatened by climate change, sea level rise and development.

“Maine’s lands and waters are the lifeblood of our coastal communities, and they are threatened by forces never before seen in Maine’s history,” MCHT President Tim Glidden said in a prepared statement.

The campaign actually began in 2014, but it’s a general practice for organizations to raise funds during a “quiet phase,” gaining momentum and support before announcing big campaigns to the general public, Glidden said.

To date, $90 million has been raised in gifts of land, cash and pledges, as well as a recent $10 million matching gift, which leaves $25 million still to be raised.

“A lot of what we’re raising from here on out is stewardship support to ensure we can take care of these lands and make sure they’re available to everyone in Maine,” Glidden said.

Since its inception in 1970, MCHT has conserved more than 150,000 acres in Maine, including more than 300 entire coastal islands. The organization currently owns and manages more than 120 preserves scattered from Kittery to Lubec — all of which are free and open to the public. On those conserved lands, the campaign is helping MCHT expand and improve more than 80 miles of trials, open more campsites and improve signage and parking.

“I think sometimes of the coast as a tapestry that’s kind of slowly unraveling as a result of those threats,” Glidden said in the short film produced for the campaign launch. “One of our challenges is to get in there, find the special places along the coast that are integral to the design of that tapestry and knit those back together again. If we don’t do it now, it’s going to be too late.”

L.L. Bean CEO Steve Smith endorsed the campaign, which was announced at the L.L. Bean Paddling Center in Freeport the evening of Aug. 1.

“So many Maine businesses and industries depend upon our state’s incredible coastal assets, not to mention the millions of tourists and residents whose quality of lives are greatly enhanced by time spent near the sea,” L.L. Bean CEO and President Steve Smith said in a prepared statement. “That’s why it’s imperative that they be protected and cared for now and for future generations.”

Only about 1 percent of the Maine coast has guaranteed commercial and recreational public access to the water, according to an analysis by the Island Institute called “The Last 20 Miles.” As global temperatures rise, there’s concern the Maine coast will only see more development pressure as the state’s relatively cool climate becomes more appealing to people.

“People have come here from away for a long time, but as it gets hotter, stickier and mugier to the south and west, the Maine coast is going to look pretty sweet,” Glidden said. “It’ll be under a lot of pressure. That’s why we think now is the time to act.”

In addition, an estimated 75 percent of Maine’s native plants and animals may be negatively affected by climate change and sea level rise, according to the 2014 assessment by 100 Maine scientists, “Climate Change and Biodiversity in Maine.” Many coastal species are among the most vulnerable. A 2017 report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, predicted that the sea level would rise between 6 inches and 2 feet by 2050.

In response, MCHT has mobilized a coastwide effort — The Marshes for Tomorrow Initiative — to save one of the state’s most important coastal habitats: salt marsh. Salt marshes clean the air and water, protect towns from storm surge, and are nurseries for countless marine species, including lobster. Therefore, protecting saltmarshes is a top campaign priority.

Since the campaign began in 2014, MCHT has completed 110 conservation projects, working toward their goal to save the Maine coast, and there are currently dozens of projects underway.

“At any point in time, we have between 50 to 100 projects somewhere on the stove,” he said. “Some are way on the back burner, but every year we’re doing 25 to 35 projects.”

To maximize the impact of the campaign, MCHT is continuing its long tradition of supporting and partnering with local land trust and municipalities in their efforts.

In Brunswick, for example, MCHT is partnering with the Brunswick Topsham Land Trust to conserve Woodward Point, one of the last large undeveloped coastal parcels remaining in southern Maine. And in Milbridge, where food security is an issue for a significant portion of the population, MCHT is teaming up with a local nonprofit to create pick-your-own veggie gardens on the organization’s Erickson Fields Preserve in Rockport.

Meanwhile in Owls Head, MCHT and the town are working together to create a waterfront park and hand-carry boat launch site, close to newly conserved Monroe Island. In Lubec, MCHT is working with the town to create a safe harbor for commercial fishermen and recreational boaters. And in Penobscot, MCHT recently facilitated a town-initiated effort to install natural fish passageways to boost the alewife populations — an economic driver in the region.

“Our coast is both home and a way of life for thousands of fishermen, clammers and others who work the land, a source of inspiration and unparalleled recreational for millions of people, and provides habitat for thousands of species of plants, animals, birds and marine life,” Glidden said in a prepared statement. “Simply stated, this campaign is about keeping the Maine coast healthy, productive and open for all.”

“Every dollar, every voice of support, every hour spent volunteering truly does count,” he added. “This vision of a healthy Maine coast long into the future is only possible because people support the work.”

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Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn Sarnacki is a Maine outdoors writer and the author of three Maine hiking guidebooks including “Family Friendly Hikes in Maine.” Find her on Twitter and Facebook @1minhikegirl. You can also...