HARPSWELL — Good things do come in small packages — as recreational boaters around the Maine midcoast’s peninsulas will attest. And as a local land trust works to protect three diminutive islands, so small they barely show on some maps, local residents hope these wild retreats will be saved for all time.
“Quite a few enjoy those islands. People are always going out there. It’s always been a traditional spot to bring a picnic,” said Dain Allen, a Harpswell store owner, of the Gosling Islands.
These small outcrops of woods and sand are East Gosling, which is just 8.6 acres in size; West Gosling, which is only 4 acres; and 1-acre Irony to the east. Sitting side by side, each is small, but the enjoyment and opportunities afforded on all three are plentiful.
“I think the potential would be great for kayakers and paddlers with the proximity to other islands to make it a nice two- to three-day camp trip, and with the ability to depart from Yarmouth, Freeport and Brunswick,” said Scott Shea, a sea kayak guide of 21 years. “The whole Goslings area is in a perfect spot between Portland and Harpswell.”
Maine Coast Heritage Trust in Brunswick is hoping to raise $700,000 by September to buy the trio of islands, and another $225,000 to assure care of them in the future. The work of island stewardship involved in the upkeep of the islands comes with a price. But the trust has invested in this type of work in Casco Bay more and more over the past decade.
In 2002 the trust purchased 122-acre Whaleboat Island, the largest undeveloped island in Casco Bay. In December, Lanes Island off the Yarmouth coast was gifted to the trust. Also in December, the trust received a donation of 44 acres on Lower Goose Island, which sits just north of the Goslings.
“My mother, born in Falmouth in 1911, grew up sailing on the bay and never lost her childlike wonder about the natural world,” said Larney Otis, who inherited the property on Lower Goose that she donated to the trust. “My hope is that Maine Coast Heritage Trust is able to purchase The Goslings so they and Lower Goose will forever be available for children of all ages to discover their own connections to the natural world in general and island worlds in particular.”
The three islands have a tradition of owners allowing recreatioal use on the unposted land.
Allen runs Allen’s Seafood at Lookout Point on Harpswell Neck, almost directly across from Lower Goose Island and just north of the three islands. The wharf at his seafood plant has existed in some form since the 1800s. And Allen said that for generations, boaters have launched there and elsewhere in Harpswell to travel to the Goslings to get away from the bustle of mainland life.
Allen, 78, still goes there to clam.
“It’s a nice anchorage. A lot of people use it,” he said. “Within a few hundred yards, there are always boats in there. On a weekend it’s not unheard of to see 100 people. It doesn’t take long to get to. It’s accessible from Freeport, Brunswick and Harpswell. The Goslings are in the middle of all of that.”
Many boaters come from Portland as well, said Harpswell harbormaster Jim Hays. On summer days, Hays sees a few dozen boats clustered around the tiny islands.
“They’re neat little islands. There is a sand bar between (East Gosling and West Gosling) and you can walk from one to the other at low tide,” Hays said. “People go out and enjoy themselves, swim and lay on the beach. It’s pretty private. I think people respect the islands and take care of them.”
On the way out to West Gosling Island last week, a rocky ledge showed off a colony of seals sunning themselves. And as the island drew into view, the developed coastline of Brunswick faded away.
As Trust Stewardship Director Jane Arbuckle looked out from West Gosling to East Gosling and the undeveloped easement on Lower Goose, she motioned to the kind of landscape the trust has worked to preserve, something wild and similar to the Downeast coast.
“You can be here and not see a house,” she said.
Since the trust was founded 44 years ago, it has protected a total of 143,000 acres and portions of 308 islands. The coastal land trust owns 61 of those islands.
That’s a lot of island love. And Arbuckle said more and more it’s being focused on Casco Bay.
“When I first started 18 years ago we would do deals for others, but we didn’t have any land holdings,” she said. “It’s definitely grown a lot. When I started I was the only land steward; now we have 16 year-round stewards.
“Now there’s just a lot more work to do with a lot of people going out to enjoy the islands.”
Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be reached at 791-6452 or at: [email protected]Twitter: FlemingPph