U.S. Fish Wildlife Director Aurelia Skipwith walks a trail at the planned Kennebunk headquarters of the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge on Friday, June 19. Tammy Wells photo

KENNEBUNK – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Director Aurelia Skipwith gazed down from the overlook, onto the Mousam River below, where two kayakers were making their way down the river on a summery Friday afternoon.

The overlook is the end point of a trail on the 15- acre Kennebunk property that will become the new visitors’ center and headquarters for the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge.

After pausing at the current headquarters in Wells to re-open the Carson Trail, closed since April 29 due to the coronavirus pandemic, Skipwith, installed as the fish and wildlife director in January, took a tour of the Kennebunk acquisition at 188 Brown St. The tour was part of a look at three northeast wildlife refuges, including Parker River at Plum Island in Massachusetts and Great Bay in Newington, New Hampshire.

U.S Fish Wildlife Director Aurelia Skipwith briefly held a saltmarsh sparrow chick while touring the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge in Wells on June 19. Kate O’Brien, USFWS photo

“It’s beautiful,” she said as she walked down the pathway to a covered bridge that spans the river on one side of the property, and then up another trail to the overlook.

Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1966 to protect salt marshes and estuaries for migratory birds. Carson was a U.S. Fish and Wildlife aquatic biologist and author of “Silent Spring,” which outlined the effect of pesticides on living creatures, including songbirds. The refuge encompasses 5,960 acres in 11 divisions between Kittery and Cape Elizabeth – and with the December acquisition of the property in Kennebunk, will add 15 acres.

The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service purchased the property, known as the former longtime home of the late Elmina Sewall, who died in 2005. There had been a couple of owners since Sewall’s death. prior to the December sale to the U.S. government for $1.5 million.

The 9,000-square-foot home, built in 1956, will be converted to 20 offices and a visitors’ center, said Rachel Carson NWR manager Karl Stromayer in a prior interview. Eight full-time staff, seasonal interns, members of the Maine Conservation Corps and other agencies, along with the Friends of Rachel Carson NWR are expected to be headquartered at the site.

Stromayer told Skipwith the refuge management had been looking to replace the Wells headquarters building when the opportunity to purchase 188 Brown St. presented itself.

While the Wells headquarters will be demolished, the trails there will remain open. The new Kennebunk headquarters is expected to open in 2022.

The refuge already owns acreage around the property, gifted to it by Sewell.

U.S. Fish Wildlife Director Aurelia Skipwith chats with Bill Durkin, president of the Friends of Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, during a tour of the the Kennebunk property that will become the refuge’s new headquarters and visitors’ center during a tour on Friday, June 19. Tammy Wells photo

“This is an idyllic setting,” said Stromayer, and will provide much more space and opportunities.

In Wells, Skipworth was joined by U.S. Sen Susan Collins, a co-sponsor of the bipartisan Great American Outdoors Act, which recently passed the U.S. Senate and now faces a vote in the House. Passage would provide $900 million annually for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Maine has received more than $191 million in funding from the fund over the past 50 years, including more than $23 million for the Rachel Carson refuge, according to Skipwith. The act would also address a deferred maintenance backlog at national parks, wildlife refuges, and forests, including reducing $2.8 million in deferred maintenance at Rachel Carson NWR.

Skipwith said the administration supports the bill.

And, she said, President Trump and U.S. Department the Interior David Bernhardt are keen to reopen America. She pointed out that national wildlife refuges like Rachel Carson are great places to get outside and connect with the natural world.

“Public lands are for the American people,” she said.

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