Monday, July 24, 2017

Governments buying Islands

Maine: Conservation Group Moves Closer to Securing the Future of Much-Loved US Coastal Island

Yet another coastal island is in the cross-hairs of the conservationists – this time it’s High Island, a 22 acre private island located across the water from the picturesque town of St. George, Maine (USA).

High Island - Photo Courtesy of Maine Coast Heritage Trust

High Island – Photo Courtesy of Maine Coast Heritage Trust

The Maine coastal region has long since boasted of its proud tradition of private land with public access – and with good reason. Indeed, many scores of island owners have historically been happy to open their doors to the general public, sharing their picturesque plots with passers-by looking for places to hike, camp of simply enjoy a picnic in the peace and quiet of the region’s natural splendour.

The 22-acre High Island, located approximately half a mile over the water from the picturesque town of St. George (ME), is another island which fits in with this proud public access tradition. Home to a small beach, dense forestland and simply stunning panoramas of the coastal scenery which gives the region its enduring appeal, High Island is also home to Blueberry Cove – a summer camp, which has called the island home since as far back as the 1940s.

When the news broker that High Island has been placed up for sale, however, it seemed that this longstanding tradition of public access was under threat. The local residents certainly had good reason to be concerned – the likes of Davis Island and House Island, which were recently purchased by an out-of-town millionaire and a developer respectively, are just two examples of an increasing number of pearls of nature which are now off-limits to the general public.

Yet it seems the fate of High Island lies far removed from the no trespassing signs and no-nonsense island caretakers found on the aforementioned private islands. Indeed, despite being placed onto the property market by its owners several years ago, the future looks bright for High Island – all thanks to the Maine Coast Heritage Trust (MCHT), a state-wide land conservation organization committed to protecting the inimitable character of Maine’s coastal region.

The news that High Island had been placed on the market came as a shock to many living in the close-knit coastal community of St. George. Fearing that the traditional public access rights would not be upheld and that the natural ecological balance of the island would be damaged, the MCHT – who recently made the headlines in Private Island News after securing the long-term future of another group of islands in Maine: the Gosling Islands – sparked a local campaign to save High Island.

The work of the MCHT certainly struck a chord with the island’s owners, the Wentworth sisters, who ultimately chose to take the island off the market and offer a first right of refusal to the MCHT – knocking an extremely generous 50% off the original USD 1.35 million price in the process. The group then received a further boost upon receiving a USD 25,000 donation from the state itself, meaning just USD 700,000 stand between a positive future for the island.

The campaign has already garnered the support of one unlikely local resident – former Harvard mathematician and professor emeritus David Mumford. Having sent each of his four children to the Blueberry Cove summer camp, the mathematical-whizz knows all too well what an important role the island plays to the local community.

After the conservation effort received the USD 25,000 boost from the people of St. George (successfully overturning the opposition of political Selectmen sceptical mainlanders alike), Professor Emeritus Mumford described the importance of the island in an interview with the Boston Globe’s Megan Woolhouse: “There’s a feeling that everything that they took for granted was being eaten up by private owners. [This campaign] signals a shift in psychology and is a first for this area along the coast.”

The project’s fundraising manager, Leslie Hyde, certainly shares this sentiment. “Being on the island is something magic,” said Hyde. “We reconnect with our true selves. And our true selves are of nature.”

The Maine Coast Heritage Trust hopes to ensure that High Island can be enjoyed by many generations to come. Following a legal agreement with the owners, MCHT proposes to work with a local committee to raise the funds necessary to purchase the island within the next two years. MCHT’s ownership would ensure that High Island is open to the public and that its ecological and scenic values are protected forever. To donate, please click this link and select High Island.

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