The Maine Coast Heritage Trust, a nonprofit land conservation group, has added another island to its growing list of offshore properties that will be accessible to the public in 2022.

Sheep Island, located off Owls Head in Penobscot Bay, is the most recent acquisition by the Topsham-based nonprofit. Other recently announced island acquisitions by the trust include Little Whaleboat West, Nate and Tuck, all of which are in Casco Bay.

Sheep Island

The undeveloped, 59-acre Sheep Island is about a 30-minute paddle from Owls Head Harbor and for years has been a popular destination for boaters and members of the Owls Head community, who have grown to enjoy its pocket beaches and natural beauty.

But the island was in danger of being sold in 2020 when it was placed on the market for $1.95 million.

“Sheep Island was on the market and could have been purchased at any time,” David Warren, the organization’s Planning Giving and Major Gifts officer, said Sunday evening in telephone interview.

The trust began raising funds to protect the island in fall 2020, and last spring, a longtime conservation donor agreed to purchase the island to give the organization more time. Earlier this month, the trust announced that it acquired Sheep Island for $1.6 million – the organization closed on the purchase in November – and that it had successfully raised an additional $300,000 that will be designated for stewardship expenses.

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Now that the stewardship fundraising goal has been reached, Warren said, the trust will begin to develop a long-range plan for removing invasive vegetation, protecting wildlife habitat, developing trails and caring for the island. Sheep Island is the third island off Owls Head owned and managed by Maine Coast Heritage Trust. The other islands include 225-acre Monroe Island, which offers an expansive trail network and overnight campsites, as well as the 47-acre Ash Island, which is known for its sandbar and granite ledges.

“All of these conservation projects together have made this an incredible part of the coast to explore,” Amanda Devine, the Heritage Trust’s land steward, said in a news release. “You can park in town, put a kayak in the water at Richard Carver Harbor Park (in Owls Head) and paddle to Monroe to camp overnight, then paddle over to Sheep Island for a picnic. More skilled paddlers can navigate the strong currents around Ash and explore that beautiful island.”

Last week, the trust announced it had acquired some of the last remaining undeveloped islands in Casco Bay. The organization raised $1.3 million to purchase and preserve three small islands: Little Whaleboat West, Nate and Tuck off the coast of Harpswell. The three islands total 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.

In another conservation success story, the trust announced this month that it finalized a deal to secure protection of 1,700 acres of forested land – known locally as the Schoodic Forest – on the Schoodic Peninsula in Winter Harbor. Ownership was transferred to the organization by Schoodic Woods LLC on Dec. 17.

The trust will manage the land with scientific assistance from the Schoodic Institute, with the primary goals being to maintain the forestland as wildlife habitat and support research. The trust said the 1,700 acres will protect a wildlife corridor that extends from the sea – it abuts Acadia National Park – to inland forest, one of the last tracts of land of its kind on the Eastern Seaboard.

Warren said factors including the need to protect coastlines and wildlife habitats from climate change and more people wanting to get outside because of the pandemic, have contributed to successful preservation campaigns.

“We’ve had an incredibly productive year,” Warren said.


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