Harpswell Heritage Land Trust marks 35 years of preservation

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HARPSWELL — The Harpswell Heritage Land Trust is celebrating its 35th anniversary, overseeing 22 historic properties and pieces of conserved land, as well as 17 preserves.

But it all started with a single house.

Built in 1783, the Tarr-Eaton House, down the street from the land trust office on Harpswell Neck Road, is on the National Register of Historic Places. It originally belonged to William Tarr, who was a Revolutionary War veteran and innkeeper, and his wife, Elizabeth.

The easement for the Tarr-Eaton house was acquired by the Harpswell Historical Society in 1983, 100 years after the home’s construction.

In the case of a historic property, an easement prevents certain aspects of the home from being altered, to preserve its original integrity. Land easements often prevent a piece of land from being developed.

Julia McLeod, outreach coordinator for the land trust, said the historical society did not want to be in charge of the easement and formed the Harpswell Heritage Trust, a “satellite organization,” which later became the land trust.

“Eventually the Harpswell Heritage Trust started acquiring more land easements than properties, (and) the two organizations sort of realized that their missions were shifting apart, so they split,” McLeod said, adding the word “land” was eventually included in the trust’s name.

These days, McLeod said her organization’s focus is primarily on conserving land, not buildings. The preserves conserved by the land trust, such as Otter Brook and Long Reach, are open to the public.

McLeod said for its anniversary this year, the land trust’s goal is to better educate the community about what the organization does, and add at least 200 new members, or donors, to its network.

“We’re taking this opportunity to celebrate what we’ve accomplished over 35 years and communicate that with the community, (as well as) ask for feedback,” she said.

The outreach coordinator said she isn’t sure exactly how much of the land trust’s funding comes from donations, but believes it is at least 75 percent.

One of the ways the land trust will commemorate the milestone is through free monthly events at a different public property each month.

The first will be a snowshoeing event under the full moon at the end of January, at Curtis Farm Preserve on Harpswell Neck Road. February’s event will be a winter ecology walk with a Bowdoin College professor, who will teach attendees how certain local plants and animals survive the winter.

More information on both events is available on the land trust’s website.

For the past two years, the land trust has also been running adult “short courses,” which include field trips to land trust properties and focus on different town topics.

McLeod said she thinks the classes are a good way to teach the community more about the town’s ecosystem and history.

“Especially in a town like Harpswell that has so many retirees, they’re really interested in learning about stuff and the town they’ve settled in,” she said.

In addition to the new monthly events, the land trust hosts several events that now happen annually, such as its winter and summer solstice celebrations. McLeod said Harpswell Day, hosted every October in conjunction with the Harpswell Historical Society, is especially well-loved by community members.

The organization will also be giving a nod to 12 of its early contributors, many of which are board members, in its monthly newsletter in 2018, profiling a different important person each month.

McLeod said work on projects like the profiles will be conducted by a volunteer, and the organization relies heavily on volunteer help. McLeod and Executive Director Reed Coles are the land trust’s only hired employees, and neither is full time.

Ultimately, McLeod said she thinks land trusts like Harpswell’s are important because of their role in preserving original elements of a town long term.

“Land trusts are in the position of being this forever organization. Us holding these easements means we’re in charge of making sure the terms of the easement are upheld,” she said. “So that’s something we’re committed to doing forever.”

Elizabeth Clemente can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or eclemente@theforecaster.net. Follow Elizabeth on Twitter @epclemente.

The Harpswell Heritage Land Trust, at 153 Harpswell Neck Road, celebrates its 35th anniversary this year.

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