Maine’s Coast for the Proletariat: The Rest of Us

 Over 97% of Maine’ s coast is privately owned and much of that is behind lots of signs telling us we can’t go there. How on earth are the rest of us to get to salt water? Enter the Maine Coastal Public Access Guides.

Several years ago, I was a writer on this project and since then I’ve shared secret beaches, picnic tables, kayak launches, quiet places to take a lawn chair, and excellent tide pools to explore with kids.

(Full disclosure. When I was a child, long before there were land trusts protecting local places or people trying to preserve access for our fishing fleet, squeezed out by high taxes and people with ‘means’ moving in, I was a trespassing child roaming private woods and shores when the summer folks were gone. I’ve created stories that feature a Maine at risk of disappearing and a narrator who trespasses …  as in this excerpt from Deadly Trespass.)

Signs that exclude people from large chunks of wild terrain are special invitations to me. I was a trespasser as soon as I could crawl away from my house toward woods and waters the wealthy used a few weeks a year. Behind Carla Monson’s gate, spawning trout had to be flinging themselves upstream under fall leaves as orange as their cold, swollen bellies. They were my kind of invitation.

Back to the guides. When Gov. LePage closed the state planning office (really? come on …), funding to get the word out about these amazing guides disappeared. You can order them from the state or ask your bookstore to acquire them. I also found some recent copies on Amazon.

We can thank a Maine lottery scratch ticket for making it possible for us to discover and explore hundreds and hundreds of public beaches, secluded shores, marshes, woods. 

Outdoor Heritage Fund money is also protecting our wild brook trout waters.

In response to grassroots efforts from environmental and sportsman’s groups, the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund was created by the Maine Legislature in 1996. Each year proceeds from Maine Outdoor Heritage Lottery Ticket sales provide approximately $700,000 dedicated to funding “critical wildlife and conservation projects throughout the state.”

In 2013, it granted funds to the Maine Coastal Program to create the “Maine Coastal Public Access Guides” to help residents and visitors discover each of Maine’s public coastal assets.

Funding for the access guides also came from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management, which supports Maine’s Coastal Program. Together these funds paid for project coordinators who hired site researchers to fan out across Maine’s vast coast to find, photograph, and document each site’s characteristics. This team identified more than 700 locations that are a mix of federal, state, municipal, and publicly accessible private lands, including land trust properties.

The three guides are comprehensive and easy to carry in a pack or pocket. They detail 700 publicly-accessible shore sites along the coast of Maine from Kittery to Calais. Three volumes, are organized by region – Southern Region (South Berwick to Freeport), Midcoast (Brunswick to Hampden), and Downeast (Bangor to Calais).

Each site includes a description, activities, directions, parking, facilities, GPS coordinates, and more. They include boat launches, beaches, nature preserves, parks, hiking trails, and other scenic areas. The Guide’s local and regional maps can help you plan a day, a week, a season or a lifetime, visiting other coastal access sites in the area. Whether you’re looking for a new fishing spot, a hidden beach, or a seaside hike, there is something for everyone, and you are bound to discover your own new favorite places.

The guide is great at helping paddlers find salt water access that is not rough ocean.

Theresa Torrent, senior planner for the Maine Coastal Program said, “There’s an assumption there isn’t much coastal access or that activities are limited to popular beaches. There’s amazing conservation work being done along the Maine coast, and the guides include prime locations for birding, fishing opportunities from shore, historical sites, estuarine habitat, unknown small beaches, little community gems, as well as unusual large preserves that are located near populated areas.”

It was up to Dorcas S. Miller, author of “Kayaking the Maine Coast: A Paddler’s Guide to Day Trips from Kittery to Cobscook,” to shape the raw research into three guides full of short descriptions.“I concentrated on what would most draw people to a site,” Miller said. “And here’s a tip. When the site description says ‘limited parking’ that usually means, get there early if you want a spot.”

I like the fact that the guide is very site specific; it even cautions folks about poison ivy on some paths and shares what is special about each site.

Here’s some examples.

Alna’s 216-acre Bass Falls Preserve, managed by Sheepscot Valley Conservation Association (part of Mid-coast Conservancy), protects bald eagles, wild Atlantic salmon and other migrating fish, but also boasts paths that wind through “a mixed forest of ancient pines and shady deciduous trees arriving at the river where current trickles through small rapids. Hunters and fishermen are welcome.”

Damariscotta’s Whaleback Midden State Historical Site, jointly managed by Damariscotta River Association and Maine’s Department of Conservation “protects a significant archeological area where Native Americans created shell middens (or dumps) over thousands of years.”

East Boothbay’s Shipbuilders Park has access to the Damariscotta River, as well as the atmosphere of a diverse working waterfront and a paved ramp, picnic table, and floating dock for tie ups. (I can testify there’s great protected kayaking next to shore here.)

One of my favorite coastal places to go. (Yup, that’s me.)

Woolwich has Merrymeeting Fields where Kennebec Estuary Land Trust maintains a 125-acre preserve with “wooded trails that wind to extensive frontage and scenic vistas on Merrymeeting Bay.”

And that Outdoor Heritage Fund lottery ticket next to the cash register? Who knows what treasures it might fund and protect next time? It’s the only lottery ticket I buy and over the years, it’s bought us regular Maine folks untold treasures in access and wildlife habitat. Hope you’ll buy lots of tickets.

Sandy’s novel, “Deadly Trespass, A Mystery in Maine,” won a national Mystery Writers of America award, was a finalist in the Women’s Fiction Writers Association “Rising Star” contest, and she’s been a finalist for a Maine Literary Award. Find her novel at all Shermans Books and on Amazon. Find more info on the video trailer and Sandy’s website.  The second Mystery in Maine, “Deadly Turn,” will be published in 2019.

About Sandra Neily

Sandy’s novel “Deadly Trespass” received a Mystery Writers of America award, was named a national finalist in the Women’s Fiction Writers Association “Rising Star” contest, a finalist in the Mslexia international novel competition, a runner- up in Maine’s Joy of the Pen competition, and recently, an international SPR fiction finalist. Sandy lives in the woods of Maine and says she’d rather be “fly fishing cold streams, skiing remote trails, paddling near loons, or just generally out there—unless I’m sharing vanishing worlds with my readers. "
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8 Responses to Maine’s Coast for the Proletariat: The Rest of Us

  1. Lois says:

    What great information. I’ve forwarded it on to my daughter. Thanks for posting this.
    Lois Bartholomew

    • Sandra Neily says:

      Thanks Lois,
      I hope that somewhere in a state government office there are still lots of these hanging around. The PR funds disappeared soon after publication so I am hopeful. Hope your family enjoys…..

  2. Judy says:

    You do realize that there is no area code for where to call to get a guide, right?

  3. Monica says:

    I love the guides you mentioned! I have all three. We have been meandering around the coast for years now and I know we haven’t made a dent in all the places to see. One of my favorites is the Cutler Reserve.

    I had no idea 97% of the coast line is privately owned. I’ve been able to wander along so much of it using the guides and random information people have given to me.

    • Sandra Neily says:

      And Monica….thanks for that comment. Was special to hear you’d found so many places, that the private nature of most of the coast didn’t show up for you. Wow…..that was truly nice to know.

  4. One of the main reasons we love Washington County is how many ‘hidden in plain sight’ access points are there. we discover new ones every year.

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