Credit: Rich Beauchesne

Credit: Rich Beauchesne

Seacoast Online | January 31 | Deborah McDermott|

YORK — If ever there was a case to be made for serendipity, the board and staff of the York Land Trust knows its worth. Due to a series of unforeseen but connected events, the land trust today has a permanent home near the upper reaches of the York River where the organization can grow and prosper for years to come.

“I can’t believe how the universe works in mysterious ways,” said executive director Doreen MacGillis.

There’s a pond that could be used for ice skating and there will soon be trails for walking; a large garage with a full second story that is expected to be converted to an events room and classroom space; a field that could be turned over to agricultural use; and room in the house for future growth.

“We’d been searching for a permanent home for several years,” said MacGillis. Initially, the board considered teaming up with either the Center for Wildlife or the White Pines program, but both organizations ultimately chose to pursue their own projects. “But because of that process, we had identified the criteria for us. We were looking for more than an office. We were looking for something that was going to be a hallmark of our work, and also a vibrant community resource.”

The pieces began to fall into place when MacGillis received a call last year from Wendy Klodt, a Cape Neddick resident who had been diagnosed with cancer and considering the bequests in her will. She had not been a member of trust previously, said MacGillis, but “had admired our work. I think it was a conversation she had with an easement donor that inspired her.”

Around the same time, MacGillis received a call from Julia Clough, who has worked with the trust over the years to preserve most of her 80 acres on Route 91. The trust’s Smelt Brook Preserve is comprised in part of this property. She had built the house across the field from her own residence, and told MacGillis in passing that she was getting ready to put it on the market.

“I immediately said, ‘Wait! Don’t list it yet,'” said MacGillis. “I brought this opportunity to the board and the committee that had been looking for a place. We came out here and we knew instantaneously that this was the place.”

The trust received a sizable gift from Klodt after she passed and the board set aside $200,000 toward the purchase “which gave us the courage to move forward.” The trust put up an additional $100,000 in reserve funds and then fundraised for the remainder.

“It lent some urgency to the situation,” she said. “The fact that the timing of that news would coincide with the timing of this opportunity was another sign that this was the right place.”

The trust expects this summer to create a parking lot on the west side of the building and a trail system on the property. It is also going to purchase an additional seven acres from Clough, thanks to a donation from longtime land trust supporters Warren and Deb Taylor.

MacGillis said the purchase of this property comes at an important juncture for the trust.

“There will come a time when we’ve conserved all of the land that can be conserved in York, and then we will be stewarding the land,” she said. “The question then becomes, how do you remain relevant? We see that happening through connecting with the community.”

She said she foresees the property five years down the road as providing many opportunities for those connections. When the garage is converted, the trust would like to offer programs for area school children to come and learn about nature first hand. She could see nonprofits using the property for retreats, or local groups meeting in the large conference room. And all rooms have sweeping views of the fields around the house.

“It’s so pretty in the spring, with beautiful views of the river and when the field is full of wildflowers,” she said. “We seen bobolinks in the spring and we’ve had bluebirds here this winter. This has been a large quality of life boost for us, and a place the community can enjoy as well.”

Board chairman Robert Brisebois said the board is completely behind the purchase and expansion of the mission.

“It really is a remarkable property,” he said. “Everything is coming together and we feel so blessed that this is happening.”