ROCKPORT — Trails and paths for the general public in Rockport and the greater Midcoast just keep getting better, and a large portion of that effort is attributed to Coastal Mountains Land Trust. Besides working on the Round the Mountain trail near Ragged Mountain, the land trust is also taking time now to complete a short yet significant improvement that will more safely tie the existing Erickson Farm Connector Trail with the Beech Hill Preserve.
When accomplished, the public will be able to park on Route 90 in Rockport, hike up the Connector Trail, past the Erickson Fields and agriculture of Aldermere Farm, through the woods, up to the Beech Hill Corner, cross the street, and hike alongside the road on a new pedestrian path, before making the final ascent to Beech Nut, the stone community building atop Beech Hill.
“It is our vision to create an opportunity for people to walk from Rockport Village to the summit of Beech Hill,” said Coastal Mountains Land Trust Executive Director Ian Stewart, speaking Aug. 27 to supporters and trust board members inside Beech Nut, which was designed and built by Hans O. Heistad in 1917, and is now open to the public on special occasions.
In total, it will be a three-mile walk through varying landscapes to 295-acre Beech Hill Preserve, with its woods and blueberry fields.
This new short connector project will eliminate the need to walk on the shoulder of Beech Hill Road, a windy, narrow stretch where car and truck traffic moves quickly, despite its rural character.
Beech Nut is a Midcoast reference point, for sailors who see it atop the 500-foot hill overlooking Penobscot Bay and use it for navigation purposes; for hikers far away, on different mountains, who catch sight of the unique building on Rockport’s coastline; and for the community, who visits there on school trips, memorial gatherings and picnics.
“Beech Hill was our first project [as a newly formed land trust] and it’s important for us, as much as we are working to conserve other places — Bald and Ragged mountains, behind us — to take care of those early places, to make sure they continue to be special and open, and available for people to enjoy,” said Stewart.
Since 1987, when a group of local citizens sat around a kitchen table discussing the origins of a local land trust, Coastal Mountains Land Trust has protected more than 12,000 acres and 45 miles of trail in 15 communities, from Rockport to Prospect.
This latest evolution of Beech Hill protection involves raising $150,000 to acquire 3.8 acres of abutting land down the hill from Beech Nut, and to build a six-foot-wide gravel path alongside the road to intersect with the Beech Hill path.
The project also includes protecting another 14 acres of adjacent blueberry fields and mixed hardwood forest.
In total, the $150,000 will be spent on conserving the 18-acre tract of land.
The expansion, “jumped into our laps,” he said, when the trust got a call from the caretaker of neighbor Bill Chapman, who owned 22 acres next door to the Beech Hill Preserve.
The caretaker said: “Bill is dying and would really like to see the land preserved but needs to sell it because his family needs resources. Will you buy it? I said ‘We’d love to, and think it is important. But we don’t have the wherewithal right now to do it.’ Fortunately, Maine Coast Heritage Trust is a close partner, and agreed to buy and hold it for two years to give ourselves the time.”
Coastal Mountains then went to work shaping a plan, deciding to own 3.8 acres alongside the road and establish an easement on the 14 acres that a new neighbor purchased. That easement prevents houses from being constructed near the preserve.
The campaign will continue for the next 12 months, and then build the trail in Autumn 2020.
“If there are key words, they are, ‘can we walk there,’” said Stewart. “With this project, like things we’ve done in Belfast with our Rail Trail, and the Round the Mountain Trail, is to connect our nature preserves to places like the middle school and the high school. They Camden-Rockport Pathways Committee is excited to continue to making more pathways from Erickson Fields towards the Village. There was a sidewalk put in in front of the Market Basket and in a little window of time the DOT was willing to do that. It is another small piece of this vision. Between the Pathways Committee and Maine Coast Heritage Trust and us doing our small piece we can start making Rockport, Camden and Lincolnville perhaps more walkable.”
Because, Stewart, added: “Maine is not known for its walkability.”
Reach Lynda Clancy at email@example.com; 207-706-6657