Maine Coastal Heritage Trust, Royal River Conservation Trust and Freeport Conservation Trust are working to preserve 82 acres of land in Yarmouth, including a portion of the Cousins River Marsh system. Courtesy / Richard Knox

YARMOUTH — The Cousins River Fields and Marsh project is underway, led by Maine Coast Heritage Trust to conserve 82 acres of land and marsh along the river.

Maine Coast Heritage Trust teamed up with Royal River Conservation Trust and Freeport Conservation Trust to raise $2.19 million, which they have to secure by Oct. 31, 2021. The amount would go towards the land purchase, signs and trails and long-term costs such as maintenance and programming, according to Richard Knox, director of communications for the trust. 

To date, Knox reported, $900,000 has been raised. If the effort is successful, the town will be home to 974 acres of conserved or public land of a total of 8,544 acres in Yarmouth.

The 82 acres are not only valuable for public recreation, but for larger-scale environmental protection.

“This property has real significance for something we call marsh migration, which has to do with the rising seas and the fact that this marsh needs a place to go as the sea level rises,” Knox said. 

The rising sea level in Maine has accelerated over the last 10 years to about 1 inch every eight years.

“Cousins River has been ranked as one of 67 top sites on the Maine coast warranting protection from sea level rise, and this project sits within a highly developed corridor that has few remaining parcels of this size left to protect,” Knox said via email.

“The danger if it’s not conserved is that homes will be built here, the water will come up and people are going to start building up rock and concrete walls to reinforce the rising shoreline,” said Keith Fletcher, land project manager for the Maine Coast Heritage. “Eventually you don’t have a shoreline anymore, you have a seawall.”

If the full $2.9 million can’t be raised, Knox said a portion of the land by Granite Street and Old Country Road would be sold to developers, leaving the marsh and its shoreline untouched.

To help meet the goal, Fletcher is applying for around $500,00 in federal funding from the North American Wetlands Conservation Act and the National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Grant Program. 

The 82 acres of the Cousins River Fields and Marsh project is also home to fields that were historically used as farmland, some of which Maine Coast Heritage Trust may turn into a community garden due to the rich soil.

The land would also be open to the public for outdoor education opportunities and activities such as hiking, snowshoeing, dog walking and cross-country skiing. Motorized vehicles will likely not be permitted, according to Knox.

To increase public knowledge about the ongoing project, a sign was installed at the corner of Granite Street and Old Country Road. Community walks, led by Yarmouth resident Gary Vogel and his wife, have also heightened awareness of the importance of the land.

“I think anybody who walks the property realizes how special it is,” said Vogel, who has lived adjacent to the parcel for 22 years. “I think it’s going to be great for the community to have access to not only the fields and open space, which are pretty rare, but to the beautiful marsh area.”

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