Harpswell trust meets fundraising goal for new preserve

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HARPSWELL — The Harpswell Heritage Land Trust has completed a $550,000 fundraising campaign to create Otter Brook Preserve, a 68-acre wilderness area along Harpswell’s second-largest freshwater stream.

Depending on when the trust is able to build a parking lot, a summer or early fall opening is being eyed for the preserve, according to spokeswoman Julia McLeod.

“This property was really appealing to preserve because it’s a freshwater habitat, and that’s not something we have much of in Harpswell because we’re a coastal town,” McLeod said in an interview Dec. 30.

Last winter, members and supporters of the land trust gathered to extol Otter Brook’s virtues as a natural passage for animals moving from the mainland down the Neck, and habitat for birds such as red-wing blackbird and osprey, fisher cats and coyotes.

When the preserve opens to the public, McLeod said that volunteers will create up to 1 1/2 miles of trails, “which isn’t very long, but it’s long for Harpswell,” and it will likely be the second-longest trail in town, after the 2-mile-long Cliff Trail.

It took a year for the trust to meet its goal of raising half a million dollars, McLeod said.

It is the first major fundraising campaign for a land acquisition since the trust acquired the Curtis Farm Preserve five years ago, for which the organization raised nearly $1.7 million, including $800,000 from state and federal funds.

Money for Otter Brook was raised mostly through donations from private individuals and foundations. The town also allocated $75,000 toward the acquisition at the 2017 Town Meeting.

Two parcels make up the 68 acres, both previously under private ownership. The northern parcel was purchased in June, from Otter Brook Farms, for $225,000.

Director Reed Coles said the trust will purchase the second parcel for $215,000, hopefully later this month. The remaining funds will go toward long-term maintenance and stewardship.

McLeod said the opening depends on when the land trust is able to build a parking lot, a task that poses some difficulty given the available road frontage on either parcel.

Coles wrote in an email that while the northern parcel has 50 feet of frontage along Harpswell Neck Road, the “50 feet is not wide enough for a parking lot, given required setbacks, and the access has inadequate sight lines for vehicles exiting a parking lot.”

From there, construction of the trail should happen quickly, McLeod said, “because we have all these dedicated trail volunteers.”

Callie Ferguson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100, or cferguson@theforecaster.net. Follow Callie on Twitter: @calliecferguson.

The Harpswell Heritage Land Trust recently completed a $550,000 fundraising campaign to purchase Otter Brook Preserve, pictured here last summer. Otter Brook is Harpswell’s second-longest freshwater stream.

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Reporting on municipal, school, and community news in Brunswick and Harpswell. Bowdoin graduate, Wild Oats sandwich-eater. Callie can be reached at 207-781-3661 ext. 100, or cferguson@theforecaster.net.