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January 21, 2019

Kennebec Land Trust cabins to be featured on 'Maine Cabin Masters'

Photo / Maureen Milliken
Photo / Maureen Milliken
The dock at the cabins in the new Wakefield Wildlife Sanctuary. Photos of the recently renovated cabins can't be published until after the Feb. 25 airing of “Maine Cabin Masters.”

The Kennebec Land Trust's Wakefield Wildlife Sanctuary is quiet this time of year — the 115 acres on Cobbossee Stream in West Gardiner don't have any developed trails yet, or even a parking area.

But the preserve, one of the Winthrop-based land trust's more than 60 properties stretching through Kennebec County, is about to get its celebrity moment.

Two cabins recently renovated on the shore of the stream will be featured on an episode of "Maine Cabin Masters" Feb. 25. The show airs on the DIY network.

The cabins will be rented out to the public beginning in July, the 30-year-old trust's first foray into renting out property, said Executive Director Theresa Kerchner.

The trust has a free campsite and cabin available to the public on Norris Island, in Androscoggin Lake in Wayne, and another cabin in Vienna it uses for programming, but nothing it charges rent for.

"It's a major endeavor," Kerchner said.

The hope is that the rental fees will be enough to maintain the cabins and pay the property taxes, which are the same for any other shoreland property owner. The trust also pays open space taxes on property that doesn't have commercial dwellings.

If the rental program is successful, two other cabins on the property may also be renovated and rented out, she said.

The cabins have composting toilets, a gray water system with a leach field and are powered by a small solar plant in a clearing up the slope from the water.

"We're advertising them as eco-cabins," Kerchner said. "They're very rustic. It's going to be fabulous."

A decade of planning

Photo / Maureen Milliken
Photo / Maureen Milliken
The road through the Wakefield Wildlife Sanctuary. No motorized vehicles are allowed at this point.

The land was donated to the trust in 2016, when landower Kendra Wakefield Shaw died.

Shaw had been working with the trust since 2006 on her bequest, but her unexpected death at 77 in November 2016 left some details to be worked out, Kerchner said.

The preserve maintains Shaw's lifelong passion for nature and wildlife habitat conservancy. She maintained the cabins herself, right up to the end of her life.

"You could go down there and find Kendra up on a ladder, working on a roof," Kerchner said.

The bequest included a small fund to maintain the four 100-plus year-old cabins that line the shore.

Despite Shaw's efforts, the cabins needed a lot of work, and the two in the best condition, as well as best location, were chosen for renovations.

Kerchner said the renovations also had to conform to shoreland zoning and other local ordinances.

When the trust put out requests for proposals, "Maine Cabin Masters" was one of the bidders.

"They're in our area, and they seemed to have the skills we needed for the project," Kerchner said.

The show, hosted by Chase Morrill, who owns Wayne-based Kennebec Property Services, also has an earlier connection to the trust. When producers at the DIY network were first scouting the show, they contacted Local Wood Works, which the trust is connected to. An employee at the trust knew Morrill, and recommended him to the producers, according to Kerchner.

But choosing them was more about the type of work the cabins needed and the skills Morrill's crew brings, she said.

Kim Vandermeulen, president of the trust's board of directors, seconded that in a recent news release.

"The cabin renovations by the local Maine Cabin Masters crew demonstrate their talent and skill," he said. "The restored cabins are a great complement to the natural beauty of Cobbossee Stream and they showcase Maine wood and other locally sourced materials."

Preserving a legacy

Photo / Maureen Milliken
Photo / Maureen Milliken
This solar station powers the lights and compost toilets at two renovated eco-cabins at the Wakefield Wildlife Sanctuary.

The Wakefield Wildlife Sanctuary has 4,000 feet of frontage on Cobbossee Stream, and is thick with coniferous and deciduous woods, vernal pools and marshland, that are important habitat for many species of birds, mammals and plants.

Kerchner said that wildlife is abundant on the property, and the preservation effort will be manage it to protect wildlife habitat and water quality.

The land trust has 6,245 acres of conserved land, including some privately owned land that it has easements on. Most of its property, though, is open to the public for hiking, outdoor recreation, nature observation and hunting.

Allowed uses at the Wakefield property are hiking, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, but no motorized vehicles or hunting.

The land was home to thousands of Abenaki people before white settlers moved into the area, according to the land trust. The sanctuary's land was first owned by Shaw's great-great grandfather, James Davis, who farmed the property beginning in the 1880s, according to the trust. Stone walls from its farming days still criss-cross the land's woods.

The family built the four cabins on the stream's shore at the turn of the 19th century. This year, the cabins will be rented out from July through October, with reservations starting immediately after the "Maine Cabin Masters" show airs.

Kerchner said they'll be about $135 a night, with a discount for trust members. Those making reservations the first couple months may reserve for a week, up to two weeks, then it will be opened up for people who want to rent for a minimum two nights or more.

Starting next year, they'll likely be available from May through October, though details haven't been nailed down.

Renters will park near the road and walk the down to the cabins, about a quarter-mile hike.

"We want people to feel like they're in a little bit of a remote location," Kerchner said.

Cobbossee Stream is wide at the location, with a bowl that's great for swimming, she added.

The trust is having a viewing party the night the show airs at The Depot Pub in Gardiner.

Kerchner said the experience has been a lot of fun, but Shaw's legacy and what it's achieved is what is most important.

"But what we're really proud of, is that if it hadn't been for this challenging project, this land likely would've been developed," she said. "The wildlife habit would be gone."

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