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Skolfield Shores Preserve: A 148 million year legacy


Fossils of the horseshoe crab’s ancestors (Limulus darwini)

Harpswell volunteers who saved Skolfield Shores Preserve from development in 2002 saved a 148 million year legacy. One of Maine’s largest populations of Atlantic horseshoe crabs feed and reproduce on the tidal mudflats of the Preserve, as their close cousins have done in similar settings since the Jurassic. Paleontologists in 2014 discovered new fossils Limulus darwini in Poland, noting “there are no significant morphological differences between these and extant individuals of the genus Limulus.” You can easily see that similarity with the Limulus polyphemus carapace (the size of a dessert plate) buried in January’s snow and ice.

Horseshoe crab shell (Limulus polyphemus) at Skolfield Shores Preserve (Nancy West photo)

I found the shell while prowling for inspiration and pictures that capture Skolfield Shores. The Preserve is almost too much to take in, with conservation values encompassing natural resources, cultural heritage, and access to the outdoors. Horseshoe crabs, roseate terns, bald eagles, foxes, smelt, eelgrass, clams, worms, and dozens of other species depend on and enrich the habitat. Historically, the Preserve was the site of Native American canoe portages and early American shipbuilding and farming. For access to the outdoors, footpaths lead through woods to the shore–for pleasant walks, picnics, views, and clams and worms for commercial harvesting. And also to this classic boathouse.

The boathouse at Skolfield Shores Preserve (Nancy West photo)

The boathouse and my first Blue-headed Vireo sighting are what stayed with me from my first visit and what called me back to take pictures. I love this boathouse. It speaks to me of wooden boats on sparkling water, of rowing and sailing. Yes, I know that the original floated with its contents, the Iris, to Pennelville in a 1970s storm, but this boathouse feels real. The shingles have weathered, and you can see a high-water stain around the base. It is Maine.

From the boathouse one has this equally iconic view across Middle Bay to a saltwater farm.

A view across Middle Bay from Skolfield Shores Preserve (Nancy West photo)

This legacy will remain, in perpetuity, for all time coming, thanks to the daring and painstaking work of volunteers. When the Preserve’s land came on the market in 2000, it was slated for subdivision into multiple lots. We, the general run-of-the-mill public, would have lost access to its delights.

Harpswell Heritage Land Trust (HHLT) volunteers stepped up to the plate to negotiate for many months with a dozen or more entities to create the Preserve. Imagine the meetings needed to craft proposals to the Land for Maine’s Future fund, other conservation agencies, and the Town of Harpswell, for instance. Imagine working with attorneys over negotiations and esoteric, technical, oh-so-very-dry issues. Imagine forging HHLT’s first fundraising campaign to raise the balance of funds needed to purchase this Preserve. The campaign raised 1.7 million dollars over 15 months. The same campaign allowed HHLT to purchase Johnson Field Preserve on Bailey Island, giving all of us a stunning view of working boats moored in Mackerel Cove, forever. Imagine that!

HHLT had a single employee then. And some very dedicated trustees and volunteers.

I thank those who invested untold hours to create the original Preserve in 2002 and to add the Liberty Farm section in 2015. Their effort protected 32 upland acres with 4,400 feet of shoreline. With the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust’s Skolfield Preserve to the north and private conserved land to the east of Route 123, this protected land is a green and blue necklace at the top of Harpswell Neck, at the gateway to Harpswell. While that’s a delight to our eyes and balm for our spirits, in these parlous times for our natural heritage, protected land makes the viability of Limulus polyphemus and the other resident flora and fauna more likely.

Photos of fossils from: Kin A, Błażejowski B (2014) The Horseshoe Crab of the Genus Limulus: Living Fossil or Stabilomorph? PLoS ONE 9(10): e108036. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0108036 Captured 4 February 2018.