The Great Outdoors: Exploring mysterious Malaga Island in Phippsburg

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Step back a century, and explore a beautiful island in the far eastern reaches of Casco Bay. The Maine Coast Heritage Trust acquired 42-acre Malaga Island in 2001. Over the last few years they have created a one-mile loop trail around the spruce- and fir-forested island. Today the only obvious signs of man on the island are the stacks of wire lobster traps sitting on waterside ledges waiting to be placed out in the bay.

However, 100 years ago Malaga Island was a vastly different place, a place of intrigue, mystery, rumor and innuendo. A small community of black, white, and racially mixed people eked out a precarious existence on the island from just after the Civil War until 1912, when the state forcibly relocated the residents to the mainland. Six of the sixty island residents were placed at the former Maine School for the Feeble-Minded (later Pineland) in Pownal.

Journalists of the day referred to Malaga as “a salt-water skid row.” At the time the coast of Maine was just developing a healthy summer tourist trade and coastal property was becoming more valuable. Many entrepreneurs interested in profits to be made from the picture postcard image of the rugged Maine coast found Malaga to be an embarrassment and possible impediment to riches. Wild rumors grew, charges and counter charges flew back and forth from island to mainland, the governor got involved, and suddenly in 1912 the community was removed.

As you walk the trail meandering up and down moss-covered ridges through a secluded forest, listen to the sounds of throbbing lobster boat engines and the cries of osprey wheeling over the bountiful waters. Stop in the cocoon of sun-splashed shadows and try to imagine how different it was out here a century ago. The island would have been nearly denuded, dotted only with crude homes and sheds.

The loop trail is not marked by blazes or signs. The trail on the eastern side of the island is a little harder to follow than the trail on the western side. Occasionally you will see orange surveyors tape attached to a tree. On the southwestern end of the island a short trail leads out to exposed ledges reaching out into the sea. This is a nice spot to sit and scan with binoculars. We saw many sandpipers and yellowlegs probing the seaweed covered ledges. Rafts of Eider ducks paddled past. Two blue herons sat stoically in the tops of nearby trees.

On a clear day you can see far out to Halfway Rock Lighthouse. To the west stretches the elongated reach of Bailey Island. The large forested island five miles to the southwest is Ragged Island, owned at one time by poet Edna St Vincent Millay.

Now comes the key question. How do you get out to Malaga? You’ll have to kayak or canoe a half-mile out to the small protected cove on the northern end of Malaga from the fishing community of Sebasco. There is no public boat launch. However, if you ask around at the Sebasco fishing docks or at Anna’s Water’s Edge Restaurant (389-1803) you will be warmly welcomed and helped. If you plan to paddle in the morning and be back by 11 a.m. they may let you park and launch right from the restaurant.

Anna’s is known for its fresh pan-fried haddock dinners, vast assortment of local seafood options, plus seasonal homemade desserts, which right now include blueberry crisp and raspberry crisp. Add in a few scoops of ice cream and you may spend most of your visit out on the lawn feasting and gazing far out over the bay. Anna’s is open daily 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. until the week after Labor Day.

If things are wildly busy at Anna’s and they are unable to have you launch and park there, you can put in a few miles up the road at The Basin and paddle a mile out to the narrow mouth of The Basin, and then two miles south along the shoreline to Malaga. Be careful at the mouth, there can be a very strong current and tidal rips here. Stay close to shore. The land around The Basin is managed by the Maine Chapter of the Nature Conservancy. There is a small parking spot at water’s edge off the Basin Road a few minutes north of Anna’s.

Consult the Delorme “Maine Atlas and Gazetteer” (Map No. 6) for help in getting to Sebasco from the Bath area via Route 209 and the Sebasco Road. Pass by Sebasco Harbor Resort on the left, and continue north on the Sebasco Road a mile until you see Black’s Landing Road on the left (a sign advertises fresh eggs and the restaurant). Turn left and head down to the water.

The cove on the north end of Malaga is awash in saltwater grasses. Pull your kayak up above the high water mark. From a low bluff above the cove the loop trail leads into the woods. It’s your choice of direction; clockwise or counter-clockwise. You can download a trail map of Malaga Island Preserve and gain information about the natural and human history of Malaga at


Michael Perry is the former director of the L.L. Bean Outdoor Discovery Schools, and founder of Dreams Unlimited, specializing in inspiring outdoor slide programs for civic groups, businesses and schools. He can be reached at