Maine Coast Heritage Trust
Maine's best-kept secret
Aside from its reputation for fresh, local seafood, opportunities for uncrowded relaxation, and its hip downtown Portland area, Maine’s attraction is largely a result of one thing: its landscape.
Talk to any Maine regular or resident and they’ll tell you they love this state because of its raw, rocky coastlines and undeveloped islands that provide dozens of opportunities to explore and appreciate their beauty, including camping, birding, hiking, and boating. Ask how this land is conserved, and you’ll likely hear about the Maine Coast Heritage Trust (MCHT).
Since its founding in 1970, MCHT has conserved more than 300 coastal islands and more than 150,000 acres of land, and manages more than 100 public preserves that are free and open to the public.
“Not everyone understands all the blood, sweat, and tears that go into land conservation,” says Richard Knox, Director of Communications at MCHT. “The effort we’ve put in has been our best-kept secret, but we want to get the word out because there’s more work to be done.”
To conserve land for the public benefit, land conservation groups like MCHT use real estate transactions and conservation agreements to protect land that may have otherwise been developed.
“It’s not unlike state and national parks, but state and federal organizations can’t do it all,” says Knox.
He says that there are three aspects of land conservation, noting that “it doesn’t stop after land is conserved; that’s just the first of three very important steps.”
The first step—conserving a parcel of land—can take decades. MCHT has a special team dedicated to developing relationships with landowners who own coastal property and who have an interest in land conservation. Knox says that MCHT puts the landowner first, because each project essentially starts with their generosity and dedication to conservation. Establishing trust with landowners is critical, and is the foundation of MCHT’s success.
Once a piece of land has been conserved (either through a conservation agreement, donation, or through a buy/sell transaction) MCHT is then responsible for caring for that land forever. This involves a number of maintenance needs that are unique to each piece of land, situation, and location. It is this behind-the-scenes work that MCHT must do to provide the Maine community with things such as new trails, mowed fields, access to clamming, or a stairway to the shore for a kayak launch.
This connection between the people and the land is the result of the hard work that goes into MCHT’s goals, which are two-fold: To provide access to the shore where there wasn’t before, and to provide the opportunity for educational programs that get kids and adults alike involved in learning more about nature.
In addition to its own conservation accomplishments, MCHT also assists other smaller local land trusts through its Maine Land Trust Program. MCHT staff members work with these local land trusts to get them the resources and education they need to be successful, which includes hosting an annual conference that provides a networking and learning environment.
“Each completed land conservation project at MCHT feels like its own accomplishment,” says Knox. “Although we’re working on anywhere from 30 to 50 projects at any one time, some very large in scope, sometimes it’s the little ones that have the biggest impact. Like securing a one-acre parcel to assure permanent access to the mud flats for clammers and wormers. This type of thing has a lasting benefit in a community.”