Land trust has purchase of islands off Harpswell in sight

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HARPSWELL — A $250,000 donation from L.L. Bean has boosted hope that the Maine Coast Heritage Trust will complete the purchase of the Goslings islands.

In May, the Topsham-based trust announced it was offered the opportunity to buy and preserve the trio of Casco Bay islands, and launched a $925,000 fundraising campaign.

But as of mid-July the trust had only achieved about half its goal, including a $262,500 grant from the Land for Maine’s Future program. 

The L.L. Bean donation, along with another substantial gift from a private donor, has put the trust on track to raise all the money by an Aug. 31 deadline, MCHT spokeswoman Jane Arbuckle said. 

“It was a big relief,” she said of the company’s contribution. 

Arbuckle couldn’t say how much MCHT has raised in total, since staff are still pulling together several pledges. 

With the addition of large gifts, however, the organization is confident that it will be able to reach its goal, she said. 

In a written statement last week, L.L. Bean Chairman Shawn Gorman said the company shares the trust’s commitment to ensuring public access and stewardship of the natural environment. 

“The Trust has been a long-standing conservation partner of L.L. Bean and we are proud once again to support their efforts to keep Maine’s precious islands and coastal lands clean, pristine and available for the enjoyment of all,” Gorman said.

East and West Gosling, and Irony Island, are south of Lower Goose Island, between Freeport, Harpswell and Brunswick. The LeMaitre family, which owns the islands, has allowed virtually unrestricted public access. 

Earlier this year, the family announced it would sell the islands, possibly opening them up to purchase by owners who could end the tradition of public access.

Before putting the property on the open market, the family gave MCHT the exclusive right to buy the islands at their accessed value, $700,000. The trust wanted to raise another $225,000 for future stewardship.

Aside from attracting big donors with major gifts, MCHT, along with community partners like Paul’s Marina, have engaged in a grassroots fundraising campaign, soliciting smaller donations from local communities with deep connections to the islands.

Although the Goslings have been open to the public, a small parcel was set aside by the LeMaitre family for L.L. Bean to use for trips offered through its kayaking center on nearby Flying Point, in Freeport.

MCHT hopes to work with the outdoor company to continue to offer field trips to the Goslings, but its donation will not be exchanged for exclusive rights to any part of the islands. 

“That would be a non-starter,” Arbuckle said, adding that MCHT may designate part of the islands for large group camp sites that could be used by L.L. Bean and other organizations.

“There will be no exclusive rights to the islands by anyone,” she said, “but there will be opportunities for different types of groups to use the islands.”

Peter L. McGuire can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @mcguiremidcoast

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Topsham-based Maine Coast Heritage Trust expects to raise more than $900,000 by Aug. 31 to acquire East and West Gosling and Irony Island off Harpswell.