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Vandalism at the Forest Playground: A letter from HHLT trustee Cristine Bachor

Cristine Bachor

On Tuesday, June 22 I met up with Julia McLeod at Skolfield Shores Preserve. We trekked a small distance along the forest edging Merriconegan Farm, then came to a small opening in the evergreens. The field leading to the historic boathouse beckoned beyond, and as my eyes spanned the area, I noted we’d happened upon the Forest Playground. I was with Julia to respond to a call from our steward that the Forest Playground had been vandalized. Again. Someone has been dismantling the forest playground equipment and leaving messages stating the playground is “trash” and “hideous” on the wooden crates built by community members and in the waterproof notebook left for messages. Flipping through the notebook, I read notes of joy and appreciation from peoples of all ages, along with excited scribbles of our pre-writers. The last entry was in all caps and stated that the Forest Playground doesn’t belong in the forest. What really doesn’t belong in a forest is vandalism. 

When we step onto Skolfield Shores Preserve, first and foremost, we are stepping onto Indigenous land. Then we are stepping on land used by European settlers for farming and later, ship building. We are also stepping on land the community of Harpswell decided to save from development via the Harpswell Heritage Land Trust. The mission of the Harpswell Heritage Land Trust is to both preserve Harpswell’s natural resources and to educate, so we might inspire future stewards of the land. As a mother to three, an educator, a Harpswell resident and a trustee of the land trust, I give my full support to the Forest Playground. I believe in the magic of open-ended play. I believe in the power of playing in the woods, along the shore, where the history of horseshoe crabs, canoe-carries, and the launching of masted ships intertwine in the tides. I mention these conflicting histories because the human story is one of conflict and change. We can not tease ourselves from it.

Despite the repeated vandalism at the Forest Playground, children enrolled in Nature Day Camp find joy and playfulness there this summer. The playground is still at Skolfield Shores Preserve, though in a simpler form, and it is free and open to all seven days a week. For more information, click here.

Many of us go to the woods to find solace and health. If, while in the woods, we see a Forest Playground, which was imagined, planned, and built with good intentions, we might be elated. Or, we might be angered. Either way, our emotional response is ours. As adults, if we are concerned enough to take action, such as taking down a tire swing, removing rope from the forest playground so items can’t be put back, or cutting the webbing of a play structure, then we should have the decency to open up dialogue. If you do not like what is on this common land, it is not your right or privilege to be destructive. As a community, our strength rests in our ability to recognize that our feelings and thoughts are not above anyone else’s. You may not like having wooden crates set in a semi-circle on the ground for children to set up forest feasts, but it is easy enough to take five steps beyond this small haven and continue with your day, truly unaffected.

I welcome and encourage the person who has repeatedly vandalized the Forest Playground to reach out to myself or Julia McLeod to share your thoughts in person. Until you do, please note that you have successfully interrupted a parcel of forest that brought spontaneous joy to children and adults alike, and are not a protector of land.

Cristine Bachor
Trustee, Harpswell Heritage Land Trust

June 25, 2021