The jaw-dropping $4.85 million price tag for House Island was probably the first thing that caught people’s eye when they read about the proposed sale of the Portland Harbor landmark. And for those who nurse a fantasy of someday having an island to themselves but lack the financial wherewithal to swing this deal, it was probably the last thing they thought about, too.

But for those who stuck with the story of Harold Cushing Jr., whose family has owned the island complete with its 1808 stone fort and five beaches for more than half a century, there was also an element of loss.

Cushing, who has brought the public to the island for catered events and tours of Fort Scammell, represents an old style of Maine property owner, one who is willing to share his treasure with the public.

His real estate broker hopes to find a buyer who has the same commitment to public access or is willing to work with an organization that would maintain public access. But there is no guarantee that the top bidder won’t be someone who wants to keep the whole thing to himself.

Transactions like this are happening in Maine’s Great North Woods, where prime ridge tops and lake fronts have been sold as house lots to owners who don’t want company. Mainers who used to enjoy unmatched access to private land for recreational pursuits likely will be confronting “no trespassing” signs in once-favorite spots.

That’s why targeted acquisitions of property on behalf of the public by the Land for Maine’s Future program are so important. Not only do Maine people want to be able to experience the great natural treasures they have inherited from their conservation-minded forebears, but we all are banking on those sites to remain accessible by visitors to our state on whom so much of our economy depends.

A modest public land bond will be before the voters in November. Until then, we wish Cushing well in his proposed sale and appreciate his family’s willingness to share their island treasure these last 58 years.


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