Some of the last remaining undeveloped islands in Casco Bay have been preserved in perpetuity thanks to an outpouring of community donations.

The Maine Coast Heritage Trust, a nonprofit land conservation organization, has raised $1.3 million to purchase and preserve three small islands: Little Whaleboat West, Nate and Tuck.

The islands, located just off the coast of Harpswell, add to a chain of protected islands already conserved by the trust including Whaleboat Island, the largest undeveloped island in Casco Bay.

“Unfortunately, or understandably, it is all too rare in Casco Bay, or anywhere on the coast, for the opportunity for an entire undeveloped island to become a preserve with public access,” said David Warren, planned giving and major gifts officer at Maine Coast Heritage Trust, in an interview. There’s no telling when the opportunity to conserve another coastal island will come again.

“I wish I could say something else is immediate on the horizon, but I’m afraid it’s not,” Warren said.

The trust had been working under a Dec. 31 deadline to raise the money needed to acquire the three islands from a family corporation that has been acting as a steward. Earlier this year two anonymous donors pledged $350,000 in dollar-for-dollar matching funds on all gifts made to the conservation effort, known as The Little Whaleboat Island Project.

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Maine Beer Co. pledged $50,000 in August, and in November the company released a new brew, Little Whaleboat IPA, to draw attention to the project. Paul’s Marina in Brunswick contributed another $50,000.

“We could not be more grateful for all the generous gifts of support for The Little Whaleboat Island Project,” said Tim Glidden, president of the Maine Coast Heritage Trust in a news release. “In this unprecedented real estate boom, it goes without saying that gifts in support of conservation make an enormous difference in our work to protect special places along the Maine coast.”

The three islands comprise a total of 22 acres and will add to the trust’s collection of preserves around Casco Bay. Their protection guarantees permanent public access, provides stable sanctuary to a range of wildlife, including seals and seabirds, and secures an overnight campsite currently on the Maine Island Trail, the release said.

Generations of people have enjoyed the island and almost 500 contributed to the fundraising drive, Warren said.

“Little Whaleboat has been very special to a lot of people,” he said. “The owners have been OK with the public using it, but they were selling it and the possibility could have been erased.”

Other areas under the trust include historic Malaga Island in Phippsburg, the site of a mixed-race fishing community in the late 19th century; Lanes Island at the mouth of the Royal River in Yarmouth; and The Goslings, a trio of islands that includes Irony Island and is known for its sandy beaches.

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Boaters at Paul’s Marina are dedicated visitors to the Casco Bay islands, Warren said, a reason it was able to raise so much for the purchase of Little Whaleboat.

“These islands should be for everybody,” said Helene Marsh Harrower, marina co-owner in a statement. “The support from the community was amazing. Everyone wanted to help – even people who had never been to the island before. It was so refreshing and exciting to see.”

Keith Fletcher, project manager for the trust, told the Press Herald in July that the properties are all part of a planned, focused effort to protect a series of coastal resources for both wildlife and recreation in the bay.

“We want to have a system in place,” Fletcher said. “Between Whaleboat, Lanes, The Goslings and the others, we’re really starting to put together some wonderful places for people to enjoy.”

The money donated by Maine Beer Co. is part of the organization’s 1% for the Planet pledge, in which it donates that amount of its annual profits to charity.

The brewery has worked with Maine Coast Heritage Trust before and wanted to make the Little Whaleboat purchase its big donation this year, said Anne Marisic the brewery marketing and communications manager. Maine Beer Co. plans to organize excursions to the island to show its patrons and community the new public resource, she added.

“People don’t always realize that the islands off the coast of Maine are accessible,” Marisic said.

“We thought it would be a great opportunity to protect a really special place. There aren’t many islands that are being put up for sale at this point, getting the opportunity to protect one is a really unique thing and when you have it, you have to grab it.”

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