YARMOUTH, Maine — Three groups working to preserve a practically untouched area of southern Maine have raised funds to purchase the 82-acre property.
The Maine Coast Heritage Trust announced this week it secured the $2.19 million needed to purchase the large area of wetlands and fields in Yarmouth to be preserved as conservation land.
“It has to happen. We have to aim for conservation right now before it’s too late,” Alan Stearns, executive director of the Royal River Conservation Trust, said.
Royal River Conservation Trust, Maine Coast Heritage Trust, and Freeport Conservation Trust worked together to secure the funding over the last two years. The group of conservation trusts finally surpassed the fundraising goal needed to purchase the property after being awarded a $466,365 grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Grant Program. The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife partnered with MCHT to secure the grant.
The Cousins River Fields and Marsh can be viewed by travelers along I-295 in Yarmouth, just north of exit 17. Environmentalists leading the effort hope to finalize the purchase of the land this year.
Land trust leaders said they plan to keep this area undeveloped while also incorporating trails and other areas for recreational use.
“We hope to have outdoor education, possible gardening or agriculture, definitely trails, and an opportunity for people to get out on the land,” David Warren, MCHT planned giving and major gift officer, said. “Certainly snowshoeing, cross country skiing in the wintertime, and trails for people to get out on. We also hope to have ADA accessible trail here.”
While recreation will be a focus of the land trusts stewarding this property, another priority is to protect the area against the impacts of climate change.
“The climate will change slowly. Marshes will change slowly, but we know that if we set the stage today, we’ll be in a better place when the storm hits or when the sea levels start to change,” Stearns said.
“Marshes have long been overlooked or underappreciated, but today they have emerged as one of the most threatened yet important resources in our response to climate change,” Amanda Devine, MCHT southern Maine regional stewardship manager, said. “First and foremost, marshes provide critical habitat for rare plants, migratory birds, and wildlife. They are nurseries for juvenile fish and shellfish; but they also provide buffers for storm surge and sea-level rise and are incredibly good at absorbing heat and sequestering carbon.”
Environmentalists hope that keeping this land undeveloped will allow the marshes, upland wooded areas, and fields to respond naturally to rising sea levels.
“Because they act as sponges to absorb rising seas and as natural filters to keep waters clean, Maine’s marshes are frontline defenders against the ravages of climate change. This particular marsh is teeming with wildlife, close to Portland, and will be a great site for research and education about the essential role marshes play in the face of climate change,” Devine said.