Fifteen years ago, Brian Marcaurelle was a new graduate of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, and newly returned to Maine.

He’d earned his undergraduate degree from Bowdoin College, in biology and environmental studies. His wife had secured a job and needed the couple’s only car, so he began to volunteer for “anything I could walk or bike to,” he recalled. “It seemed like a better use of my time than sitting at a computer terminal hitting refresh on the job search.”

He stopped by the Portland office of the Maine Island Trails Association, a nonprofit that has developed a 375-mile water trail along the coast – think Appalachian Trail for boaters. “The joke is he walked up the fire escape, he couldn’t find the front door, and he pounded on the (emergency) door,” said Doug Welch, the organization’s executive director. Marcaurelle started as a volunteer but within a few months was hired for his first –and still only – full-time job. Today, he is MITA’s program director and “the heart and soul of our program,” said Welch, who nominated Marcaurelle for a Source Sustainability Award. He is our 2019 Purifier award winner.

Brian Marcaurelle poses for a portrait near the office of the Maine Island Trails Association, where he serves as program director. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Under Marcaurelle’s “steady hand,” Welch wrote in the nomination, “the Maine Island Trail has grown from 30 original islands to 234. Over 15 years, Brian has enabled countless thousands of Mainers and visitors to experience Maine’s wild islands first-hand. By providing island access, Brian inspires people to care about these truly precious places and support the organization’s stewardship work.”

Marcaurelle, 39, who lives in Cumberland with his wife and 4-year-old son, has loved the out-of-doors since childhood. He was the sort of boy who disappeared for hours at a stretch in the woods behind his home, building forts and searching for tadpoles. In college, he led mountain hikes for Bowdoin. Boating came later. He learned to operate a boat during his first summer at MITA, a “trial by fire,” he said.

As program director, Marcaurelle oversees volunteer efforts to keep the islands clean, a task increasingly focused on deadly ocean-borne plastics. He thinks strategically about trail expansion. “There are over 3,200 islands off the coast of Maine, and there are only a few hundred on the Maine Island Trail so there is plenty of opportunity,” he said. He maintains and develops relationships with the nonprofits, government agencies and private landowners who own the islands and coastal areas that comprise the trail.

MITA offers stewardship of these wild places to their owners in exchange for permission that boaters may visit. Whether they come by kayak, sailboat or motorboat, visitors are expected to leave the island better than they found it. That arrangement simplifies his job. “It’s much easier for me to go in talking about a flexibile handshake agreement than it is for my land trust counterparts who want a permanent easement,” Marcaurelle said.

But his colleagues give him a lot of credit for the success of his approach. Welch describes Marcaurelle as dogged, quiet and patient. Adding a new island to the trail network can take years. “But he has a quiet determination and earns the trust of the landowner, and that’s what makes the whole thing work,” Welch said.

Stu Hadden, a volunteer monitor skipper with the nonprofit, seconded the assessment. “Brian is an extraordinarily delightful man to talk to. He’s just the most interesting guy. He’s very quiet, self-effacing. But you only need to talk to him for five minutes and you realize he is someone you can trust, someone with tremendous integrity. One of the key things about MITA is the relationship with the owners of the islands. Having somebody like Brian on the team is just gold.”

During an interview, Marcaurelle told about his favorite island (“the island I’m on at that moment”); a magical encounter with a whale; and plastics pollution (“the issue that motivates me more than any other”).

“I am super honored to be awarded this,” he said, “but I don’t feel like I can take credit for all of the great things MITA has done. MITA is an amazing organization made up of so many people who care deeply, whether they are staff or volunteers. I just happen to be the lucky one who has occupied this seat for 14 years. It’s a collective effort. Whether it’s marine plastics, or invasives or spreading the good word about leave-no-trace or low-impact boating, there are literally hundreds of individuals doing that on MITA’s behalf every year. I’m just one of them.”

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