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Rebecca Stanley: Playing a vital role at key moments

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

Rebecca Stanley helping to build the trail system at Skolfield Shores Preserve in 2004.

By Doug Warren

Looking back at her time as co-chair of HHLT’s “Special Places Campaign,” which preserved Skolfield Shores and Johnson Field in the early 2000s, Rebecca Stanley recalls lots of teamwork, many long meetings and some rather daring decisions. But one particular contribution stands out in her memory:

“We got a $5 donation from a local woman who said she believed in our cause, and wanted to do more, but this was the best she could do. I thought that was incredibly meaningful,” Stanley said, her voice betraying emotion undimmed by the intervening years.

Stanley, who grew up in West Hartford, Conn., and now lives in Monmouth, retired from the HHLT Board of Trustees in 2005. But in the early days of the organization, she played a vital role at key moments.

Just like the land trust, Stanley started out as part of the Harpswell Historical Society, joining the Board of Directors in 1989. She was an active member of HHLT when the land trust formed its own board in 1992. Stanley became HHLT’s first paid, part-time employee and helped launch the organization’s first town-wide membership drive, which resulted in 246 gifts for a total of $7,300.

“We needed to organize our membership lists and bring our easement documents up to the national ‘best practices’ standards. So, I bought a computer, set up a database and we were off and running,” she said.

Stanley also started the first semi-annual HHLT newsletter and initiated and worked to develop a conservation easement on Liberty Farm, donated by Lorraine Skolfield Lowell in 1996 after two years of negotiations. This was the first key piece of the Skolfield properties to be conserved.

She thinks fondly of the formative years of HHLT: “We had a lot of meetings at the Bailey Island Motel (owned by then trustee Ralph “Chip” Black), with pizza and an occasional beer or two. We were a young organization starting on an important task. We had a good time.”

Stanley stepped away from the land trust in 1996 and continued to live at the farm on Mill Cove in North Harpswell that she bought in 1977. She was one of the first certified organic farmers in the area and raised sheep on her property. She traces her interest in nature to time spent on her uncle’s dairy farm and summers on the Connecticut coast as a young girl. That interest blossomed in adulthood into a passion for protecting open spaces for people to enjoy. She came to Maine to attend the University of Maine, and realized she had found the state where she wanted to establish a home.

After the Johnson Field property at Mackerel Cove on Bailey Island and part of the Skolfield Farm property at the Brunswick-Harpswell town line both came on the market at the same time in 2000, Stanley joined HHLT as a trustee in 2001 and helped direct the $1.7 million, 15-month campaign that saved those town treasures from development.

“I felt very strongly it was time for the land trust to step up to the plate. Those properties were too important to the town to let them go,” Stanley said. With Dr. John Anderson as the co-chair of the campaign, and the help of board president Keith Brown and newly hired executive director Thomas “Spike” Haible, along with a dedicated campaign committee, the effort was a huge success. “The response was wonderful,” Stanley said, noting that the voters of Harpswell contributed $100,000 to the campaign at Town Meeting.

“The campaign really elevated the land trust to a new level – with new staff, plans for a new office and a stronger presence in town,” she said. In 2004, Stanley chaired the committee that developed the land trust’s stewardship program and she oversaw the design and development of the Skolfield Shores Preserve trail system, which opened in 2005.

Although she has moved out of town, Stanley keeps up to date on HHLT activities. “The public outreach is fabulous,” she said. “The programs build up interest in what the trust is doing and really help educate the next generation about the natural world.”

Her biggest concern: “What’s going to happen with climate change? How will it affect the way we all will live? It’s a big problem and it’s already here. I’m not sure what role the land trust will play in dealing with this issue, but I know it will be an important one.”

February 2018