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A New Conservation Project on Great Island

Doug Warren
October 3, 2021

Harpswell Heritage Land Trust (HHLT) has launched an ambitious campaign to preserve 57 acres of woodlands, undeveloped shorefront and associated intertidal areas at the northern end of Quahog Bay across the street from Harpswell Community School on Great Island. HHLT signed a purchase and sale agreement for the parcel with the Tondreau family, which has owned the property since the late 1940s, on Sept. 2.

Greg Tondreau gives HHLT trustee Sharon Oehmig a tour of the future preserve. (Amelia Graham photo)

HHLT now needs to raise approximately $520,000, plus $45,000 to support the property’s long-term stewardship costs, to close on the new acquisition. Thanks to the Tondreau family’s strong desire to have the land conserved forever, HHLT is benefitting from a 70 percent discount on the cost of the property, which was valued at $1,650,000 by HHLT’s appraiser in March.

Five siblings, Rod, Beth, Greg and Claire Tondreau, and Nancy Tondreau Neely, decided together that they wanted to see the land they inherited from their mother stay wild forever. They wrote, “We’ve taken quiet pleasure in having signed the land our mom left us over to the HHLT. Our brother Greg has spent time on all of the HHLT’s trails and has given us many glimpses into your caretaking. Part of our happiness with the agreement we’ve made is knowing what good stewards you are. We know how much work is still ahead of you as we make progress towards the closing. Our sincerest thanks for getting us to this stage, and for your efforts and your commitment moving forward.”

HHLT Executive Director Reed Coles said, “Thanks to the Tondreau family, we have a unique opportunity to help protect the water quality of Quahog Bay while also potentially creating new outdoor recreation opportunities for Harpswell residents and our many visitors.”

Coles pointed out that the Tondreau Point property is located in the Brickyard Watershed Focus area of Harpswell’s Open Space plan. “That makes its conservation a top priority for us,” he added.

The property has 2,648 feet of undeveloped shorefront, with 754 feet on Orr’s Cove, north of the Safe Harbor Great Island Marina and 1,894 feet on Mill Cove to the east. The intertidal areas associated with the property contain approximately 5.2 acres of mudflat, fringing salt marsh and intertidal rocky shore. Both coves and the part of Quahog Bay they drain into contain habitat for soft-shell clams, European and American oysters and quahogs.

Quahog Bay is fairly shallow with limited tidal flushing because of its narrow entrances. The bay’s waters are warmer than Harpswell’s deeper bays, with less capacity for oxygen. In addition, much of the bay shore is heavily developed with small lots created before shoreland zoning was established in the 1970s, resulting in a significant amount of nitrogen reaching the bay from subsurface waste disposal systems. As a result, the bay is susceptible to algal growth, which adversely affects its water quality and the viability of its abundant marine resources.

If the Tondreau Point parcel was to be developed, Coles said, as many as 20 to 22 residences could be built there and the nitrogen from the accompanying subsurface waste disposal systems would increase the flow of nutrients into Quahog Bay.

The forest on the property is predominantly mixed species of mixed ages. Near the western boundary with the Harpswell Islands Road is a six-acre deciduous forested wetland. These forests and wetlands filter and slow runoff into Quahog Bay. The property also provides habitat for at least 11 bird species of “greatest conservation concern” listed in the state’s Wildlife Action Plan.

Coles pointed out that the property is part of a large, 178-acre habitat block that includes properties to the east of the Tondreau property and enhances its value as wildlife habitat. The property will also provide connectivity for wildlife movement by its location across Harpswell Islands Road from the conserved Austin Cary Lot, managed by the Baxter State Park Authority as a demonstration forest.

“It’s a really important piece of property for preservation on so many fronts,” Coles said. He added that finding a feasible location for parking will be the key to developing a trail system. “We plan to provide public access, but a lot of details still have to be worked out,” he said. “Our focus now is to raise the money to make HHLT’s newest preserve a reality.”