Sunday, May 19, 2013
Fifty years ago, Houghton Mifflin published Rachel Carson's seminal "Silent Spring." The book, a damning look at the environmental effects of pesticides, was a national bestseller. Carson gets much of the credit not only for a national ban of the pesticide DDT in the 1970s, but with the birth of the modern environmental movement.
On this anniversary of Carson's most famous work, it's worth looking back at the author's relationship with Maine. The state's rugged coastline was a definite influence; Carson summered in the midcoast, and much of the material for her earlier book "The Edge of the Sea" was gathered on the shores of Muscongus Bay. In return, the author's influence is seen on the Maine coast today. As a founding member of the Nature Conservancy, Carson helped protect what eventually became hundreds of thousands of acres of Maine land and sea. A Salt Pond Preserve in New Harbor and a National Wildlife Refuge stretching from Kittery to Cape Elizabeth bear Carson's name.
Carson's history with Maine dates back to 1953 when she first summered on Southport Island. She used her location on the Maine coast for field research of coastal ecosystems. The rocky coast and myriad tide pools provided ample material for study. Salt ponds like the one in New Harbor, where the tide flushes and replenishes an entire quarter-acre of sea life, offered a large area to study.
Later, Carson was one of the founders of the Nature Conservancy in Maine. She remained honorary chairman of the organization from its founding in 1956 until she passed away in 1964. The impact of this organization in Maine may even exceed that of "Silent Spring." In its 55 years, the Maine chapter has protected more than a million acres of land and sea in the state.
The two stretches of the Maine coast named for Carson are absolutely worth the trip. The quarter-acre salt pond preserve, while small, sits near some excellent hiking and kayaking. The much larger national wildlife refuge spans 50 miles in southern Maine.
The Rachel Carson Salt Pond Preserve is located just a mile east of the intersection of routes 32 and 130 in New Harbor, marked by signs and parking on the road's shoulder. At high tide, the preserve is fairly unremarkable. The pond is tidal, after all, so a high tide leaves little other than a scenic stretch of coastline. At low tide, a tidal pond ringed by rocks is revealed to visitors. A walking path from the parking area provides access to the beach, and a pleasant wooded trail (also part of the preserve) is across the road. It's an excellent spot for a picnic, and pamphlets at the site allow amateur naturalists a chance to follow in Carson's researching footsteps.
Sea kayakers who put in at any of the launches spread along the Pemaquid Peninsula can see the preserve from the ocean side of the Muscongus Bay.
The Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge is stitched together from a number of divisions between Kittery and Cape Elizabeth, a patchwork that will contain approximately 7,600 acres when land acquisition is complete. The refuge headquarters is located at 321 Port Road in Wells, less than a mile from the intersection of routes 1 and 9.
At the headquarters, a 1-mile loop -- the Carson Trail -- provides wheelchair access to pine forests and salt marshes. A free pamphlet explains the sights on the trail, and the self-guided tour is open from sunup to sundown.
In the fifty years since the publication of "Silent Spring," debate has raged over Carson's research. No matter where you stand on the issues of pesticides and the environmental movement, or on Carson herself, it's hard to find a downside in the pieces of the Maine coast that now bear her name. Locals and visitors alike are lucky to have these beautiful preserves to look forward to seeing -- and exploring -- for years to come.
Josh Christie is a freelance writer and lifetime outdoors enthusiast. He shares column space in Outdoors with his father, John Christie. Josh can be reached at: