This 15-acre property at 188 Brown St.. in Kennebunk will become the new headquarters of Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, following renovations. The U.S. government purchased the property in December. Dan King Photo

KENNEBUNK — The 15-acre parcel at 188 Brown St., Kennebunk, purchased Dec. 27, 2019, will be the new headquarters of the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge.

The announcement from refuge Manager Karl Stromayer drew applause from the Kennebunk Select Board on Tuesday, Feb. 25.

The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service purchased the property for $1.5 million, according to town records. The property is probably best known as the former longtime home of the late Elmina Sewall, who died in 2005. It had also been owned at one time by the Nature Conservancy, which later sold it. The property was in private hands prior to the December sale to the U.S. government.

The 9,000-square-foot home, built in 1956, will be converted to 20 offices and a visitors’ center, Stromayer said. Eight full-time staff members, plus a number of seasonal interns, members of the Maine Conservation Corps and other agencies will be headquartered at the site.

The new facility is expected to open sometime in 2022 after the remodeling  is completed.

“This … will be a site where we can educate the public about our mission and the legacy of Rachel Carson,” said Stromayer. “It will be a center of learning and conservation, right here in Kennebunk. We’ll bring people from around the world to this stellar place.”

Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1966 in cooperation with the state. Its purpose was to protect salt marshes and estuaries for migratory birds. The refuge was named to honor environmentalist Rachel Carson, author of “Silent Spring,” a book which outlined the effect of the use of pesticides on living creatures, including songbirds. The refuge encompasses 5,960 acres in 11 divisions between Kittery and Cape Elizabeth and is currently headquartered in Wells.

While the trails at the Wells location will remain, the buildings will be removed, said Stromayer. He said he hopes to have a small visitor station there.

The refuge continues its original mission, focusing on migratory birds, which has expanded to include habitat, restoration of salt marsh and threatened and endangered species.

In general, wildlife refuges are directed by Congress to accommodate wildlife observation, nature photography, and hunting and fishing, he said.

Stromayer had some additional good news for the Select Board.

He noted that there are just four breeding colonies of least terns in Maine and in 2019, 152 pairs raised 31 chicks on Crescent Surf Beach in Kennebunk — which is less than three miles from the planned new headquarters.

Select Board member William Ward wanted to know if the covered bridge on the Brown Street property would remain.

Stromayer said it would, along with existing walking trails. He said the refuge owns land on either side of the 188 Brown St. property as well as across the street.

He pointed out that Fernald Brook runs through the property to the Mousam River.

Stromayer said the refuge will enter into a contract for an architect and engineering this spring. The design phase is expected to begin by the end of the year, with construction to commence in 2021 and occupancy expected  in 2022.

“I’m excited,” said Select Board member Shiloh Schulte of the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge’s move to Kennebunk.

“This will be a center of learning and conservation,” said Stromayer. “This is really an exciting development for us.”

The Select Board agreed and extended a hearty welcome.

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