Julia McLeod: Getting people to care
One in a series of profiles of people who played a key role in the first 35 years of the Harpswell Heritage Land Trust.
By Doug Warren
There have been numerous watershed events in the first 35 years of Harpswell Heritage Land Trust (HHLT). Among them: The acceptance of a preservation easement on the historic Tarr-Eaton House in Harpswell Center in 1983. Separating from the Harpswell Historical Society in 1992. Starting Nature Day Camp in 1998. The Special Places Campaign in 2002. Hiring two executive directors. Opening the land trust headquarters on Harpswell Neck Road in 2007.
Add to that list the hiring of HHLT Outreach Coordinator Julia McLeod in 2012.
In the past six years, Julia has become part of the public face of the organization and expanded HHLT’s role in the community through education, communication and lots of hard behind-the-scenes work.
Since Julia’s arrival, she has instituted hands-on science education programs at every grade level in Harpswell Community School. She has expanded and promoted HHLT’s extensive public programs and seasonal events. She leads the popular Nature Day Camp, which has grown to five weeks in the summer. And she has updated the way the land trust communicates with its members and the larger Harpswell community through email and printed newsletters and an updated website.
“It is difficult to describe adequately Julia’s impact on HHLT’s activities and standing with our community,” said Reed Coles, HHLT’s executive director. “Her creativity, thoughtfulness, energy and inclusiveness have vastly expanded our presence in town and beyond. And I believe Julia’s work will have a substantial impact on future generations of Harpswell’s leaders, to the benefit of all.”
Julia believes her arrival at HHLT was mutually beneficial. “For me, it was a combination of interests and career paths blending into one,” she said. “My role at HHLT combines all my passions – teaching kids, writing and the outdoors.”
That path that led Julia to Harpswell began in rural Wayne, Maine, where she grew up and her family spent a lot of time outdoors — hiking, swimming and camping. In high school, she spent a memorable summer working on trails with the Maine Conservation Corps and Outward Bound. “The relationships I made with trail crew members, the hard work and being in nature were all very influential,” she said.
After a year at Haverford College, she spent time in Western Pennsylvania teaching young people about the outdoors before thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail in 2000. She completed her college education at College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, graduating with a degree in Human Ecology in 2003.
Julia pursued a variety of interests after college – teaching English in Costa Rica, leading trail crews for the Student Conservation Association across the country and living and working with troubled teenagers at a therapeutic outdoor residential program in Maine.
“After a couple of years of that, I wanted to go home at night,” she said. “I was seeking a satisfying work life and home life.”
She wound up at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies for a writing program in 2007 and then became a reporter for the Lakes Region Weekly, covering the Bridgton/Casco area. After a year of journalism, in 2009 she joined the Darmariscotta Lake Watershed Association, which is now part of the Midcoast Conservancy, a nonprofit based in Edgecomb dedicated to protecting the quality of water and nature in the Midcoast area. From there, it wasn’t a big jump to her current role at HHLT.
Along the way, Julia met her husband, Andy, and now the couple lives on their working farm – “Scratch Farm” – in Bowdoin, with their children, Sophie, 6, and Otto, 3.
“To be honest, I didn’t know much about Harpswell before I came to HHLT, but it’s a great place to do this kind of work,” Julia said. “There’s so much to learn about and explore. There’s such of a variety of environments.”
As outreach coordinator, Julia says her goals include “engaging the community with Harpswell’s natural and cultural resources and finding ways to get people involved and to care.”
By all accounts, she has done an outstanding job. As HHLT continues to grow, the organization has also hired another part-time employee in 2018, Andrea Stevens, as stewardship coordinator.
As for the future, Julia expresses concern about the impact of technology and the amount of time children spend indoors on electronic devices. “Unstructured playtime outdoors is really important,” she said. And then there’s climate change and continued development and the impact they will have on coastal communities like Harpswell. “We’ll need to figure out how to adapt and maintain the things we love most – the beauty of nature, animal habitat, clean water and places to enjoy the outdoors,” she said.