The culmination of a yearlong effort to purchase the island makes for a network of islands that the public can easily access and explore by paddle craft or a small boat. Credit: Lauren Abbate / BDN

OWLS HEAD, Maine ― The preservation of an uninhabited 59-acre island off Owls Head would alone be a boon in the effort to save more of Maine’s coast for public use.

But the acquisition of Sheep Island by Maine Coast Heritage Trust is bolstered by a series of developments in recent years. A new town-owned pier and park will give people a launching point to get to the island, which is located close to two other islands owned by the land trust.

The culmination of a yearlong effort to purchase the island makes for a network of islands that the public can easily access and explore by paddle craft or a small boat. A walking path on land makes it a more complete recreational destination in the heart of the midcoast.

“It’s just another gem of an island in a string right there that has easy access from Carver Park,” David Warren, the land trust’s planned giving and major gift officer said.

Maine Coast Heritage Trust announced this week that it acquired Sheep Island, which went on the market for $1.95 million in summer 2020. The land trust purchased the island for $1.6 million and has raised $300,000 more for stewardship, Warren said.

In 2018, Maine Coast Heritage Trust purchased the 225-acre Monroe Island and have since established a preserve. Sheep and Monroe islands are located just outside of Owls Head harbor and are accessible by paddle craft or a small boat. Slightly down the coast, the land trust operates a preserve on Ash Island, which also requires a boat to get to.

But having islands conserved for public use is only one piece of the puzzle, making sure that the public can easily access them is the other. That is where the newly built town-owned pier and waterfront park in Owls Head come into play.

The pier was the result of a yearslong effort by Owls Head to improve access to its harbor. For decades, the town relied on an agreement with a private business that allowed the public to use a 3-foot wide pathway along the side of a working wharf to access the harbor.

Last year, the town completed a nearly $400,000 project to build its own pier that the public can use for myriad purposes — from paddlers launching a kayak to fishermen who need to get to moored boats. With the help of the land trust, the town purchased and preserved a swath of waterfront property for a park next to the pier, which provides parking and a walking path.

The access point from Owls Head Harbor will allow for greater use of all three of Maine Coast Heritage Trust’s nearby island preserves.

“Without Carver Park, which provides that access, we would simply be saying, ‘These are all wonderful places you can enjoy if you can get to them,’” Warren said.

The improved harbor access and conservation of Sheep Island isn’t just a good thing for Owls Head, according to Owls Head Harbor Committee member Richard Carver, it’s a win for anyone who wants to experience the uniqueness of the islands located just off Maine’s coast.

Carver was a driving force behind the pier project. The waterfront park was named after him. It took dedication to get the access project to come together, but seeing how everything has come together to create a network of public access opportunities, he cannot help but smile.

“It’s just wonderful,” Carver said. “Everytime I start thinking about it I smile, because it’s so lucky to get it put together and it’s so good, not only for Owls Head, but for everybody.”