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Spike Haible: The First Executive Director

One in a series of profiles of people who played a key role in the first 35 years of the Harpswell Heritage Land Trust.

As the first executive director (and first more-or-less fulltime employee) of Harpswell Heritage Land Trust (HHLT), Thomas “Spike” Haible arrived at a pivotal point in the history of HHLT.

Haible was already involved in conservation as a board member of the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust. That organization was undertaking important projects, such as Crystal Springs Farm, for which Haible was one of the original signers.

“The sense was that Brunswick was doing big things and Harpswell needed to step up its game,” Haible recalled. “Some folks thought HHLT could use an executive director and that sounded like a good idea to me. I said I was interested.” Haible came on board in the fall of 2001.

“Spike was instrumental in transforming HHLT from a basically all-volunteer group to a professional land trust,” said Reed Coles, the current executive director. “We wouldn’t be the organization we are today without his contributions.”

When he started working at HHLT, Haible’s office was in his house and later in a small building in Harpswell Center and then in one room on Orr’s Island. When he left the organization in 2006, the site had been acquired and plans were under way for the land trust’s permanent home on Route 123.

Haible played a critical role in initiating and directing the organization’s first major fundraising campaign.
Starting in 2002, the Special Places Campaign raised $1.7 million and resulted in the acquisition of Skolfield Shores Preserve on Harpswell Neck and Johnson Field Preserve at Mackerel Cove on Bailey Island.

“In my mind, I always thought of it as the ‘bookend campaign,’” Haible said, “because it incorporated two ends of town. Some folks on the board thought I was crazy, but I said, ‘Let’s figure out a way to do this.’ It put us on the preservation map and then the projects began to grow.”

A native of Lexington, Mass., Haible’s Maine connection predated his permanent move to Harpswell in 1993. His family vacationed on Vinalhaven while he was growing up and they passed through Brunswick on their way there. “I always knew I wanted to go to school in Maine,” he said. Accepted early decision to Bowdoin, Haible left college after three years to run his own automotive repair business, before returning to school and graduating in the 1980s. He also lived on Bailey Island and worked at Glen’s Lobster for a time.

“I loved Bailey Island in the 1970s,” he said. “It was very quiet and totally natural.” At one point, Haible bought Upper Flag Island outside Pott’s Harbor and later sold it to the US Fish and Wildlife Service to be preserved as a sea duck nesting ground. Today, Haible, 64, lives on Harpswell Neck with his wife, Amy.

While he left HHLT in 2006 to take on new career challenges, Haible’s legacy at the organization remains highly visible.

“Spike was key to our acquisition of Houghton Graves Park on Orr’s Island, helped bring about our acquisition of Crow Island Preserve in Middle Bay and shepherded the Birch Island North, Gallows Island and Charles Norton easements into our portfolio of protected places,” Coles recounted. “His impact is unmistakable.”

Haible, for his part, was quick to give credit to others. “Cultivating a high quality board of trustees was just as important as my efforts,” he said. “We developed a great board during my tenure at HHLT, and that continues today. I couldn’t have done what I needed to do without their support.”

Haible said his only concern about the future of land preservation in Harpswell is that, because of the town’s unique physical layout, there may ultimately be a limit to potential projects. “As my friend, Jay Espy (the first president of the Maine Coast Heritage Trust), used to say, at some point land trusts will have to evolve from acquisition to stewardship, and that is key.”

However, Haible says he is pleased with the direction of the organization today. “The outreach programs are excellent,” he said. “They are the most visible thing you can do. If you can get people to explore our special places through interesting programs, that’s what keeps people’s interest up.”