A student at The Community School on Mount Desert Island takes notes while outside on the school's Somesville campus in this undated photo. The school and Maine Coast Heritage Trust are working together on a project that will conserve and add 72 abutting acres of forest to the school property. Credit: Courtesy of The Community School

A small pre-K-8 school on Mount Desert Island is acquiring 72 acres of forest that will be conserved and used for outdoor learning.

The land, located behind the school on a tidal section of Babson Creek in Somesville, will become part of The Community School’s property on the north side of Route 198. Maine Coast Heritage Trust, which helped to arrange the sale of the land to the school, will hold a conservation easement on all but two acres of the property that front along the road.

The arrangement will permanently protect the parcel from being developed. This comes as increasing development pressure stresses the island, where the supply of year-round housing is acutely scarce. Home and land values on MDI have shot up significantly in recent years as investors have sought to capitalize on the growing demand for vacation rentals near Acadia National Park.

The Community School plans to use the abutting undeveloped property for outdoor education for its students, which number in the few dozen, and to make it accessible for the same use by other local schools.

“We are creating an outdoor learning laboratory that can be a resource for all island schools to study ecology, explore a sense of place, practice art, and experience solitude and wonder,” said Jasmine Smith, founding director of The Community School.

The property, now called the Babson Creek Learning Forest, “will create opportunities not only for our students but for youth across Mount Desert Island and beyond to deepen their sense of place and stewardship for the special place where we live and learn,” Smith said.

The property includes forestland, alpine, salt marsh, vernal pool and tidal creek environments. There currently is no public access to the forest, but there may be in the future as pedestrian access across the creek from Somesville on Route 198 is improved and as trails are built on the property.

Misha Mytar, project manager for the trust, said that protecting the property from development will help establish stronger bonds between island residents and the surrounding landscape. It also will help make the island more resilient to climate change.

“Salt marshes are incredibly valuable and very limited and very threatened — both by development and by sea level rise,” Mytar said. “This property plays an important role in connecting larger tracts of conserved lands, ensuring that animals and plants can continue to move through the landscape as the environment changes.”

The school and the land trust are collaborating on raising funds for the project. The target goal is more than $900,000, which includes the $625,000 purchase price for the property, associated transaction costs, and ongoing stewardship expenses, Mytar said. The groups have roughly $230,000 left to raise to reach their project funding goal.

The current owner, David Gilpatric, is retaining ownership of two houses across Route 198 from the school that overlook Somes Harbor.

A portion of the land is located in Bar Harbor and the rest is in the town of Mount Desert. The total assessed value of the property is $272,000, according to property tax information listed online by the two towns.

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....