Falmouth neighborhood group backs Clapboard Island purchase

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FALMOUTH — A plan to purchase half of Clapboard Island for public use has received yet another financial boost, this time from residents of a Foreside neighborhood.

The contribution, which could be $100,000 or more, brings the overall fundraising effort to the midway point, according to a project manager’s estimate.

At a meeting on Feb. 25 the Madokawando Landing Association gave its support to the project, association President Roger Berle said.

First, the group voted its general support for project. Then the association devised a goal of gathering $100,000 or more from its members.

The outcome is different from the plan Berle announced during a discussion of the project at a recent Town Council meeting. At the time, Berle said the association would consider making a unified donation.

That approach was voted down.

“Everyone in the room was fully behind the whole project,” Berle said. “But, as a legal entity, the association will not play a role.

“It’s a bit loose. We will (donate) as Madokawando Landing people, but not as an association.”

Berle said the association decided it would be unfair to expect everyone to contribute to the cause, considering the “wide range of financial capabilities” of its 22 members. A contribution from the association would also deprive its members of charitable tax credits, Berle added.

The association now hopes members’ contributions will add up “to a six-figure level,” which would be used as a challenge pledge to spur donations from other sources, Berle said.

“I was really pleased with this group of folks,” he said of the meeting’s outcome. “It’s a process. It takes people a while to figure out the benefit of taking their lunch money and putting it toward something that will not directly benefit them, but will benefit their general quality of life and protect something that they value.”

The northeastern half of Clapboard Island – which lies about a mile off Falmouth Landing – has been on the market since 2011. Recently, the grassroots organization Friends of Clapboard Island and Maine Coast Heritage Trust negotiated a price of $1.4 million to buy 17 acres on the northeastern half of the island, which includes a small cottage.

Residents of Madokawando Landing have a stake in the project because a developable lot in the Foreside neighborhood will convey with the island’s cottage. Under the current plan, the lot – known as “The Grove” – will be placed under a permanent conservation easement, an attractive proposition to its neighbors.

The mainland lot was purchased in 1898 by Sam Houston to secure access rights to the neighborhood dock, which he used as a launching point to access his property on Clapboard. Today, the mainland lot and northeastern half of Clapboard Island are still owned by Houston’s descendants.

Fundraising for the effort is gaining momentum, according Keith Fletcher, project manager for Maine Coast Heritage Trust. Fletcher said Tuesday he didn’t know the exact amount of donations, but estimated that fundraising has reached the midpoint.

“I think we’re about halfway to where we need to be,” he said. “We’re coming along.”

Last month, the Town Council agreed to donate $200,000 toward the effort. Fletcher said the town’s recent financial commitment has given a boost to fundraising efforts.

An official tally might be announced next week, he said.

Although the fundraising goal is $1.6 million, the total outlay could be much less. The island property includes a three-season cottage, which sits on a 100,000-square-foot lot. The home and a two-acre lot could be sold to a third party at the time of closing. The estimated price for the home and lot, which will go on the market this month, is $800,000.

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

Berle’s background offers a unique perspective on the Clapboard Island project. He is a self-described islander, splitting his time between his home in Falmouth and another on Cliff Island. Also, Berle has served for 32 years on the Oceanside Conservation Trust of Casco Bay, where he has been president for most of the past two decades.

He said the proponents behind the Clapboard Island project are doing it right.

“They know what they’re doing,” he said. “I have total confidence that they are trustworthy and capable of getting this thing done.”

If fundraising is successful, the property will be placed under a conservation easement, but opened to daytime use by the public as early as August.

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. Trails would also be built to accommodate hiking.

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