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Bob Weggel: Leaving a legacy

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

Bob Weggel working on stepping stones at the Widgeon Cove Trail.

Supporters of Harpswell Heritage Land Trust (HHLT) have brought an amazing array of talents to aid the organization during its first 35 years. Lawyers and lobstermen, boatbuilders and mathematicians, mechanics and medical personnel all have played important roles.

But — so far as we know — only one HHLT member is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records: Bob Weggel, one of two engineers at the National Magnet Laboratory at MIT named as designers of a magnet that in the 1980s generated the world’s most intense continuous magnetic field.

Bob is a triple-threat contributor to HHLT. He’s a dedicated and talented trail builder: walk the Wilson’s Cove Trail or Widgeon Cove Trail on Harpswell Neck and enjoy his rock steps, gravel causeways and bog bridges. He’s also a community steward of the McIntosh Lot and Johnson Field preserves on Bailey Island. And he’s endowed the Robert J. Weggel Fund to facilitate rapid response to land-acquisition opportunities and to endow the Land Trust’s long-term financial health.

“Bob is a tremendous resource for our organization,” said Reed Coles, HHLT’s executive director. “He’s been there for us in any number of ways over the years.”

Ever since 1982, Bob and his wife Diane have eagerly looked forward to fleeing Boston for their shore-cottage paradise on Bailey Island. It features breathtaking views toward Jaquish and Ragged islands, and gardens of rhododendrons and perennials growing in hundreds of cubic yards of soil trucked in and retained by hundreds of feet of walls built by Bob over the decades.

Bob was born in Cleveland but grew up in Michigan and Germany, where his father was a civil engineer specializing in hydraulics. He moved to the Boston area in late 1957, graduated as 1960 valedictorian in Arlington, Mass., and studied physics at MIT and applied mathematics at Harvard’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

After the National Magnet Laboratory at MIT was superseded by the one at Tallahassee, Bob worked for Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island. He’s now a consultant in magnet design: Magnet Optimization Research Engineering, LLC — “You deserve M.O.R.E.!”

“I loved magnet design and have been very fortunate to have worked for some of the best mentors imaginable, on some very fascinating projects,” Bob said.

Bob’s wife and her family have roots in Bath and Popham, but the prospect of fewer mosquitos brought them to Harpswell. The Special Places Campaign for the acquisition of Skolfield Shores Preserve on Harpswell Neck and Johnson Field at Mackerel Cove in 2002 introduced Bob to HHLT.

“I met (former HHLT executive director) Spike Haible and donated to the Special Places Campaign,” said Bob. “My financial support now can be much greater, it being my legacy. The need is great. If not for the care of HHLT and its supporters, Harpswell could easily have lost almost all of its open space.”

Bob’s trail work on land trust preserves reinforces his connection to the outdoors. “Building steps and spreading truckloads of crushed stone, like on the Wilson Cove trail, gives me great satisfaction,” he explained.

His endowment — a quarter million dollars, so far — in the Robert J. Weggel Fund is to be “a source of instantaneous funds to snatch up opportunities for preservation as they arrive” and then replenished, instead of being drained by operational costs. “I wouldn’t mind getting my name on something at some point – you know: ‘Bob Weggel enabled this to happen,’” he said.

Bob also is a supporter of other land preservation and outdoor organizations: the Middlesex Fells Reservation in Massachusetts and the Rocky Mountain Field Institute, which builds and restores trails in south-central Colorado.

As for the future, Bob said: “The challenge for the next 35 years, and beyond, will be dealing with the pressures from over-population and over-consumption. We have to cultivate a culture that has people living more in harmony with our wonderful wild spaces.”