Falmouth may add part of Clapboard Island to open spaces

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FALMOUTH — Half a coastal island could soon be added to Falmouth’s open spaces.

Clapboard Island, which sits about a mile from Town Landing, is the subject of an ongoing fundraising effort by two groups that hope to transform its northeastern half from a privately owned, 17-acre property, into publicly accessible land.

That effort received a boost Monday, when Falmouth’s Land Management and Acquisitions Committee voted unanimously to recommend town funding of $300,000 or more toward the $1.4 million purchase price.

Committee member Caleb Hemphill said the property presents a “unique opportunity.” Unlike neighboring communities, Falmouth has relatively few islands in Casco Bay. They are Mackworth Island, The Brothers and Clapboard.

“It has great wildlife value,” Hemphill said of Clapboard. “It’s a great open space.”

Whether the town contributes money to the effort will be decided by the Town Council, Hemphill said. The committee will make a formal recommendation at the next council meeting on Jan. 13.

The property is being sought by two groups who are working together: Friends of Clapboard Island, and Maine Coast Heritage Trust. If purchased, the deed would be held in easement by the trust, said Susan Gilpin, a member of Friends.

The property, which is visible from Town Landing, is owned by three Philadelphia-based siblings who have agreed to sell it to the groups for $1.4 million, Gilpin said.

The total outlay for the groups, however, could be much less. The property includes a three-season home, which sits on a 100,000-square-foot lot. The home and lot could be sold to a third party at the time of closing. The estimated price for the home and lot is $800,000, Gilpin said.

That means the groups need to raise about $600,000 for the 17-acre parcel, plus another $200,000 for a stewardship endowment, Gilpin said.

So far, Friends of Clapboard Island has raised $177,000 in pledges and donations, plus a notable prospect: the Pew Charitable Trust will contribute $100,000 to the effort when donations reach $500,000.

If the fundraising effort is successful, the land could be open to the public by August 2014.

The northeastern half of the island would only be accessible via small, beach-able craft, such as canoes, kayaks and dinghies. There would be no overnight camping or campfires, but picnicking and bird-watching would be encouraged, Gilpin said. Trails would also be built to accommodate hiking.

The island boasts nesting sites for ospreys and bald eagles. It is forested with a “maritime spruce-hemlock forest,” which is a rarity in Cumberland County and gives the island a “Downeast feel,” Gilpin said.

The effort to buy the property began in the fall of 2012, when Falmouth residents David and Valle Gooch learned about the sale during a boat tour of the bay, Gilpin said. The couple reached an option agreement with the sellers in May.

The purchase price also includes a small wooded lot in the mainland neighborhood known as Madokawanda Landing, Gilpin said. The Maine Coast Heritage Trust would preserve that lot in its current, undeveloped state.

Gilpin added that she’s very confident the money will be raised and the sale will go through.

“Once the Maine Coast Heritage Trust decides it’s going to get a property, it never fails,” she said.

Ben McCanna can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or bmccanna@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @BenMcCanna.