Harpswell hopes to improve boaters' access to Graveyard Point

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HARPSWELL — Graveyard Point may be a public boat launch, but few motor boats ever use the landing.

That’s because the road leading to the water is narrow and turns abruptly to sand and large rocks well before the water line, making it nearly impossible to back a trailer down to the shore.

Neighbors say many boaters drive down the road only to find they can’t launch their boats, and have nowhere to back up.

Now the town is trying to improve access.

“We want to ensure that we, the town, don’t lose permanent access,” said Selectman Jim Henderson, who visited the site with other selectmen, town officials and members of the town lands committee on Tuesday.

Neighbors say plenty of kayakers and beach walkers use the launch and park along the road, which so far has not caused problems. Another attraction of the site is an old, publicly owned graveyard that juts out into the water.

Over thirty years ago, the Coolidge family, which owns the house next to the boat launch, built a stone retaining wall on the property after an old log wall was washed away in a storm.

According to Beverly Bibber, who has lived on Graveyard Point Road for more than half a century, the wall was built to accommodate the largest boat in Harpswell at the time. But since then, a hedge planted along the wall has infringed upon the width of the launch, and the bottom of Graveyard Point Road has eroded.

Now the launch is all but unusable by any boat except a kayak, and Bibber requested that the town stop advertising the road as a boat launch to avoid confusion.

But town officials said they would rather improve the launch than let it further deteriorate.

“Most town people don’t even know that this valuable resource exists,” said Melinda Richter, who serves on the town lands committee. She said the committee wanted to promote Graveyard Point, which she described as “not user friendly unless you live in the neighborhood.”

In the short term, town officials plan to trim back the hedge to open up the bottom of the launch. Any long-term solution would have to be voted by selectman, and would include improved parking, a turn-around area, and improvements to the lower end of the road.

Jane Coolidge, whose family has owned the house on the point since 1924, said improvements are necessary as more people find out about Graveyard Point. But she said she hopes any future work would also maintain the quiet, seaside character of the neighborhood.

The move to improve Graveyard Point comes during a drawn-out struggle over access at Hildreth Landing, a public boat launch on Harpswell Sound that is frequently used by commercial shellfish harvesters.

On July 1, town officials met with Margaret McMahon Hickey, the neighbor who has expressed concerns about shellfishermen parking their vehicles on her portion of the beach, which she shares with the town.

In a letter following the visit, Town Administrator Kristi Eiane and Deputy Town Administrator Terri Sawyer proposed clarifying where the boundary is with large rocks, and improving parking along the road leading to the launch. But as of last week, there had been no response from Hickey.

Unlike Hildreth Landing, Graveyard Point is used primarily by recreational boaters. But no matter what the use, town officials say their priority is maintaining public access to Harpswell’s shorefront.

Henderson said the town wants to “make (Graveyard Point) more inviting to the public … without driving the neighbors crazy.”

Emily Guerin can be reached at 781-3661. ext 123 or eguerin@theforecaster.net. Follow her Twitter: @guerinemily.

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Neighbors, selectmen and town officials talk about access to the Graveyard Point boat launch during a site visit on Tuesday. An overgrown hedge and large rocks keep motor boats from reaching the shore.

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