Shifting sands: Freeport’s Desert of Maine for sale

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FREEPORT — After nearly 15 years of keeping business blooming at the Desert of Maine, Gary and Ginger Currens are ready to sell their home at 95 Desert Road and the dunes that come with it.

Ginger Currens on July 30 said it is “just time” for the couple to move on.

The approximately 40-acre property, offered for $725,000, includes the “desert” and surrounding trails, the couple’s home, a 48-site campground, gift shop and a barn that is more than 225 years old – the last remaining evidence that the desert was once a fertile farm.

Currens said there is no criteria for prospective buyers, but they hope the property will remain a tourist attraction.

The Currenses’ Realtor, Mia Johnson of Northeast Campground Brokers, said the property is being marketed as a turnkey business – ready to occupy and in a condition that allows immediate operation. It will include everything needed to keep the business going, down to the tour trams and lawnmowers.

“(The Currenses) are wonderful people (and) they’d love to sell this as an operating business … and see this continue as the tourist attraction it’s been for so long,” Johnson said.

“It’s been this way for 95 years,” Currens added.

Though the rolling sand dunes mimic a landscape you’d see out west, the Desert of Maine is not considered a true desert, because it receives too much rainfall.

And the dunes are technically not sand either; they’re silt. During the last ice age, 10,000 years ago, glaciers covered what is now Maine. As they expanded, they scraped rocks and soil, grinding rocks down to pebbles and pebbles down to what is known as glacial silt – a sediment material somewhere between sand, which is more porous, and clay, which is less so.

Still, tucked amid a forest of lush pine trees, the desert is one of Maine’s most curious and sought-after natural phenomenon, a product of ancient geology and human flaw.

In 1797, William Tuttle purchased the then-300-acre parcel and operated a successful farm for decades.

But due to poor crop rotation and overgrazing by sheep, Tuttle’s descendants lost the farm after years of trying the save the land from erosion that exposed the underlying silt, which eventually swallowed the buildings and the pasture.

In 1919, Henry Goldrup bought the abandoned property for $300. He opened it as a tourist attraction six years later.

The Currenses, who are originally from Florida, have lived in Maine since 1998. They moved from Belgrade to Freeport in 2004, when they bought the property after their first visit to the tourist attraction.

Johnson said the property has received significant interest from prospective buyers, but no offers have been accepted.

“We’ve definitely had a lot of activity,” she said July 31. “The sellers would love to see this continue as a tourist attraction and their employees continue to have jobs.”

The employees include people like Anita DeVito, who began giving tours last year and knows the ins and outs of the surrounding vegetation, from lichen to pine tree. And history buff and campground manager Richard Willing, who can give detailed descriptions of every artifact on display in the barn.

During a walking tour on a recent 90-degree afternoon, DeVito frequently stopped to take photos of plants she’d never seen before, so she could research and identify them later.

“I learn new things about this place all the time when I come out here,” she said.

The vegetation has slowly been encroaching on the desert over the years, reclaiming the space, only to be buried again by dunes that are constantly shifted by the wind. Because of this, DeVito said, it’s hard to tell how much longer the desert will exist, although he said researchers estimate anywhere from 50 to 200 years.

The Desert of Maine is open at 9 a.m. daily from May 10 to Oct. 15, with the first tours of the day at 9:30 in the morning and final tours at 4:30 p.m. Visitors can also enjoy a butterfly room, gift shop, barn museum, marked nature trails and gemstone hunts for kids.

“I always say ‘visit what’s in your own backyard,'” Gary Currens said. “This thing here is so unique.”

Prospective buyers of the property are being asked to contact Johnson at necampgroundbrokers.com for more information or to schedule a showing.

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or jvansaun@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.

Ginger Currens and her husband hope to sell the Desert of Maine in Freeport, after about 15 years of owning and operating the tourist attraction.

Although the Desert of Maine isn’t a true desert, temperatures can rise well above the rest of Freeport during the summer. According to a tour guide, a few years ago it hit 128 degrees.

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