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Maine Coast Heritage Trust has raised $90 million toward a campaign goal of $125 million — part of an ambitious plan to acquire more land for public access, educational use and conservation.
The Topsham-based nonprofit said it secured $90 million in gifts of land, cash and pledges through the quiet phase of its campaign, as well as a recent $10 million matching gift, yet to be donated, toward the public fundraising part of the campaign.
It hopes to have the $125 million raised by the end of 2019.
Tim Glidden, president of the organization, made the campaign public at an event at the L.L.Bean Paddling Center in Freeport, launching the public phase to raise the remaining $25 million. Speaking with Mainebiz before the announcement, Glidden said the campaign’s quiet phase kicked off in 2014.
“Since then, it’s been building momentum,” Glidden said. “We wanted to go to the public with confidence that the goals we were setting for conservation and for community well-being in Maine can actually be achieved. So we wanted to be at the 70% level before we asked everyone to chip in.”
It will earmark $65 million for land acquisition and creation of public access and environmental protection programs; $42 million for stewardship; and $18 million for connecting people to the land through education, policy advocacy and other types of programs.
“This is not about locking up land,” said Glidden. “It’s about making land available to the public along with environmental and ecological conservation.”
During the quiet phase, he said, MCHT completed about 110 projects along the coast.
“But we’re also building our capacity, particularly through stewardship, and our ability to manage and care for these lands in perpetuity and to make them available for the people of Maine forever,” he said. “We want to come out of the campaign feeling confident that, for every piece of land that Maine Coast Heritage Trust has conserved since 1970, we have the resources to take care of these lands.”
Since 1970, Maine Coast Heritage Trust has helped conserve more than 150,000 acres in Maine, from the Isles of Shoals to Cobscook Bay, including more than 300 entire coastal islands.
“We have a long track record in Maine,” said Glidden. “What we’re seeing now is that Maine as a whole, and the coast in particular, is at a critical juncture. There are substantial threats to the quality of the coast and to the communities along it, that we think will challenge the environmental quality and economic viability of coastal communities and of the coast itself.”
“When you roll all three factors together, we think this is point to act,” Glidden said. “So this campaign is designed to provide our piece of that response. We’ll look to create places along the coast for people to go, that includes access and recreation, and places that will enhance the well-being of local communities.”
MCHT has a long record of working with partners that include the land trust community, towns along the coast, and other groups, Glidden said.
“This campaign will help strengthen these partnerships,” he said.
Glidden said gifts of all sizes are welcome. The $10 million matching gift comes from the family of philanthropist Robert Bass, who has a summer home on Mount Desert Island, said Glidden.
Coastal access is integral to Maine’s economic sustainability for industries like the commercial fisheries and tourism, said Glidden.
“We want to make sure people can make a living along the coast,” he said. “Maine has always had an economy with a strong grounding in the natural resources, and we think that, by caring for those natural resources, that’s a significant contribution to Maine’s economic future.”
The history of land conservation started with people who wanted to conserve their land, said Glidden.
“But what happens now, and how Maine Coast Heritage Trust does it, is we carefully and strategically identify lands that warrant conservation, that have the most community and ecological benefit. Then we go to those landowners and talk with them. It’s entirely on a willing-buyer and willing-seller basis,” Glidden said.
In some communities, he added, “we’ll talk with local clammers to say, ‘Okay, where are the most important access points for you that are not public land and not conserved? Are any of those at risk?’ They’ll frequently know and we don’t. We take that guidance and reach out to landowners. It’s a very thoughtful, planned process that we look to accomplish, and we attempt to listen to what the needs of the community are.”
In other cases, a town or organization will contact MCHT.
“We just completed a project in Lubec, where the town reached out to us to help them acquire a piece of land they’d like to develop as a safe harbor for their fishermen,” he said.
According to the release, MCHT owns and manages more than 120 preserves and maintains more than 80 miles of trail. The lands are free and open to the public and require ongoing maintenance and improvements. The campaign is expanding and improving trails, opening more campsites, improving preserve signage and parking, making it easier for all to connect with Maine’s incredible coastal lands and waters.
Among dozens of conservation projects underway or completed during the quiet phase, in Brunswick, MCHT is partnering with the Brunswick Topsham Land Trust to conserve Woodward Point, one of the last large undeveloped coastal parcels remaining in southern Maine, to create an expansive new coastal preserve in a quickly developing part of the coast with limited public access.
In response to rising sea level in Maine, MCHT has mobilized a coastwide effort, the Marshes for Tomorrow Initiative, to protect salt marshes as natural air and water filters, protection from storm surge and nurseries for marine organisms.