KITTERY, Maine – An old logging road snakes its way through the Brave Boat Headwaters Preserve, remnants of a time when skidder and horse traversed forests that in an earlier age were rolling farmland. The site of an old 18th century garrison is plainly visible, a historic reminder that townspeople once collected behind its walls during Native American raids. The endangered black racer snake was seen on the land recently, as were river otters – the emblem of this land where fresh water joins the sea.
And that’s just for starters.
In less than two years, a small cadre of Kittery conservationists and landowners have cobbled together private and public funding to preserve a patchwork of 150 acres of Kittery Land Trust property and conservation easements in the heart of Brave Boat Harbor in Kittery Point.
It’s been and remains a challenge to fund the $2 million project – made even more so by Gov. Paul LePage’s vow to hold back Land for Maine’s Future funding. The KLT had secured $150,000 from the LMF. Another critical piece is a $275,000 request that will appear on the town ballot in Kittery this November.
But it’s a challenge worth the effort, they say, for Kittery and the entire region. The preserve provides a critical link in the Mount Agamenticus to the Sea conservation initiative, spearheaded by a consortium of local, state and federal organizations and agencies. Already, 13,500 acres in southern York County have been preserved and consortium members seek to preserve another 5,500 acres in the years to come.
“This land has bogs, salt marsh, working fields, old forest, new forest, vernal pools,” said Kittery Land Trust Executive Director Christine Bennett. “We’re creating a mosaic for a wide variety of habitats that can support a wide variety of life. We’re also creating a place where people can hunt, where schoolchildren can come and learn about nature, and where we can create an outdoor community center.”
The nexus for the project is a 60-acre tract that was sold to developer Joseph Falzone of Stratham, N.H., in 2013 for a 27-lot cluster subdivision. The land links to Rachel Carson Wildlife Refuge property and several large abutting parcels. His plans raised alarm from neighbors, who came to the land trust and encouraged it to purchase the property.
“We’d been in conversation with these landowners for decades,” said KLT advisor Melissa Paly. “When this came up and we had the opportunity to conserve it, all the neighbors pledged their land in conservation.”
Seven parcels make up the 150-acre preserve. On the original tract is the site of a garrison built in 1758 by John Mitchell – an ancestor of Horace Mitchell for whom Kittery’s elementary school is named. The hand-hewn log structure was built during the French and Indian Wars, to house townspeople. The building survived into the 20th century and was dismantled and offered to the Kittery Historical and Naval Museum.
“This area was farmed by the Mitchell and Grant family well through the 1800s,” said Bennett.
Stone walls dot the property as proof. “They’re nice reminders of our past,” said Paly.
William and Barbara Sawyer donated 43 acres on Bartlett Road, beginning at the back of the original 60-acre plot and opening up through the woods to rolling farmland. The land connects the preserve to the KLT’s 170-acre Norton Reserve across the street on Bartlett Road. Cattle that has long come from stock at Blaisdell Farm in York will still roam the land but the goal is that there will be paths for people, too. A freshwater stream on the property flows to Brave Boat Harbor.
Anita and Robert Bottino donated a conservation easement on their 103 acres. While this will not have public access, Bennett said it’s critical to the mosaic because it has a series of highlands and wetlands and will serve as wildlife habitat. On this and the other conserved land, 54 species will benefit, including wood duck, osprey, Blanding’s turtles, American Woodcock, blue-spotted salamander, bobcat and moose. Plant species spotted in the preserve include the rare spotted wintergreen, lady’s slipper and bay laurel.
Another conservation easement was donated by Tom Hill and Karen Kalmar. Among the benefits of this parcel, said Bennett, the forest is more dense than on other parcels, which invites certain species of nesting birds.
The final piece of the puzzle is a parcel on Route 103 owned by Madeline Gavin. The KLT intends to purchase this land in the future.
As a cohesive preserve, the land has collectively energized the members of the Mount Agamenticus to the Sea Conservation Initiative, said coordinator Karen Young. The initiative’s landholdings are extensive in the vicinity of the mountain, but there is a gap of conserved land from the York River to Kittery. Efforts are under way to close that gap, said Bennett.
“Parcels are so small in this part of the state because it’s such an old part of Maine. Family farms have been divided and divided over the years,” she said. “The Brave Boat Headwaters Preserve, though, is a spark that has created something exciting on a larger scale.”
The KLT has to date raised $1.2 million of the $2 million needed to realize the entire scope of the project. A “conservation minded” anonymous lender lent the land trust $1.34 million for the original purchase, and not all that money has been paid back.
Young, who is helping secure funding, said finding grants has been difficult. “We have looked under every stone. Private foundations have broadened their interest, so where they might have funded just conservation projects in the past, they’re now funding, say, social issues or the arts, as well.”
Bennett said for this reason support from Kittery voters is crucial to the project’s continuation. The land trust has a series of events planned on the land this month, and has held other events in the past year. “We want to create a real community space here,” she said, “so that everyone can use it.”
Paly said that vision, which she feels is fast becoming a reality, is what sticks in her craw when she considers the problem the Land for Maine’s Future – and by extension the land trust – is undergoing.
“We went through a rigorous process to secure funding for this project, which the LMF named the No. 1 project of regional significance for the entire state of Maine because of the broader Mount Agamenticus tie-in,” Paly said. “Holding up these funds is misguided. The governor’s perception is that a lot of conservation projects are just for rich people but that’s not true. This project has broad benefits to hunters, to schoolchildren, to people interested in history – not to mention people who want clean water. These benefits accrue to the entire community.”
Oct. 6-7: Fifth- and sixth-graders from Shapleigh Middle School attend outdoor classroom. Four stations will be set up that explore math (area calculations), science (tree identification), social studies (history of Brave Boat Harbor) and language arts (a journal).
Oct. 15: Plugging into Nature: A Community Conversation at 6:30 p.m. in the Shapleigh Middle School cafeteria. Co-hosted by the Kittery School Department, the speakers will be school psychologist Glen Gruba and Dan Gardoqui, director of White Pine Program in York. Discussion will center on benefits of engaging children with nature.
Oct. 17: Fall Foliage walk, 9 to 11 a.m., at the Brave Boat Harbor Headways property. Explore the property with Kittery Land Trust staff and volunteers.
Oct. 18: History of Brave Boat Harbor, 4 p.m., Star Theater. Curator for the Portsmouth Historical Society and Kittery resident Sandra Rux will explore the early settlements of Brave Boat Harbor and the historic Mitchell Grant property.