As a volunteer, I write press releases for a variety of environmental organizations, such as the Sheepscot Valley Conservation Association in Newcastle, Maine.



SVCA Land Acquisitions Are Key to Conservation Vision

By Sam Low



The Sheepscot Valley Conservation Association (SVCA) has recently purchased two properties to the north of Route One and Sherman Lake which are essential pieces in a jigsaw puzzle of land acquisition - called the "The Sheepscot Sanctuary Project" - to preserve a large ecological zone along the banks of the Marsh River .


"For a long time we have worked to protect the extensive intertidal ecosystem where the Sheepscot is joined by the Marsh River and by Deer Meadow Brook," says Maureen Hoffman, SVCA's director. "It is important to the ecology and the rare natural beauty in our part of the Sheepscot's watershed."


SVCA has been spearheading preservation here with a great deal of success in the last few years. The society now owns 125-acre Guptil Island (purchased in 2001), and three parcels to the west (including the Griggs Preserve, all donated by Mrs. Griggs in 1980). The Association has several easements in the area including 145-acre Cunningham Island (donated in 2000), and 37 acre Straw Farm. Negotiations are continuing on several more properties along the Marsh River . In addition, the entire Reachwood Peninsula (700 acres) is protected with an Inland Fisheries and Wildlife easement.


Three State agencies - joined in a study of Maine 's unique habitats - have underlined the importance of this region. Maine's Natural Areas Program has declared it to be an "ecological focus of statewide significance," Maine's Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Department has designated it "an important coastal wading bird habitat," and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Gulf of Maine Program identifies it as a "high value estuarine habitat in the upper 25% degree of importance state wide."


Motorists traveling along Route 1 just south of the Sherman Lake Rest Stop will be familiar with a part of the sanctuary where the Marsh River crosses the road and forms a spectacular 150 acre tidal marsh. It is an abundant vista of rare salt marsh false foxglove, black rush, sedge, common arrow-grass, saltmarsh bulrush, silverweed, salt hay and cordgrass. Another vista comes on Sheepscot Road at the Deer Meadow Brook crossing.


"In addition to the area's significance as rare plant and mussel habitat," says a report by the Maine Natural Areas Program, "it also supports rare bird species. A bald eagle pair has used two alternate nests between the Sheepscot Reversing Falls and railroad bridge. After no activity at these nests in 1997 and 1998, eagles produced one young here in 1999 and nested again in 2000."


"Our bald eagles have continued to nest in this newly preserved area," says Ms. Hoffman, "and this marsh is one of a very few areas where both the salt marsh sharp-tailed sparrows and Nelson's sharp-tailed sparrows breed. It's also a nurturing habitat for many species of aquatic animals and an important a waterfowl wintering area. That is why we are so thrilled to be able to conclude these two purchases this year."


The first purchase, completed by SVCA in March, is called the Wade property. It consists of 19 acres north of Route One with 2700 feet of frontage on the Marsh River across from the protected Reachwood Peninsula and from SVCA's Guptil island property. It will be an essential part of a trail and wildlife corridor between Sherman Lake and Marsh River .


The second acquisition, completed in July, is the remaining 10 undeveloped lots in the Marsh River Estates subdivision, a total of 35 acres and another 2,500 feet of frontage . It will provide a parking area and trail head for a new public preserve as well as possible hand-carry access for watercraft to the Marsh River .


"Without the active and visionary help of the town of Newcastle , these acquisitions would not have happened," said Director Hoffman. "The town forgave a part of the debt owed to them by the developer of Marsh River Estates to make the purchase possible and they assisted us in the acquisition of the Wade Property as well."


The acquisition was also assisted by the generous support of the Land for Maine's Future Program, Davis Conservation Foundation, Fields Pond Foundation, Land Trust Alliance, Maine Coast Heritage Trust, Maine Wildlife Habitat Initiative, Sears-Swetland Foundation as well as contributions made by three donors and one other foundation that wished to remain anonymous.


"We look forward to opening trails on these new properties for our members and the public to enjoy in the future," says Director Hoffman. "In the meantime, we are gratified that the view of this wonderful area will always be a source of wonder for those driving along Route One and those exploring the rivers that flow through it."