The newly preserved island is the latest element of Owls Head’s efforts to increase access to the coast

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OWLS HEAD, Maine — Preserving a 59-acre uninhabited island off Owls Head alone would be a boon in the effort to save more of Maine’s coastline for public use.

But Maine Coast Heritage Trust’s acquisition of Sheep Island is bolstered by a series of developments in recent years. A new city-owned pier and park will give people a jumping off point to get to the island, which is located near two other islands owned by the land trust.

The culmination of a year-long effort to purchase the island creates a network of islands that the public can easily access and explore by paddle boat or small boat. An on-land walking trail makes this a more comprehensive recreational destination in the heart of the Mid-Coast.

“It’s just another jewel of an island in a chain right there that has easy access from Carver Park,” said David Warren, the land trust’s planned giving and major giving manager.

Maine Coast Heritage Trust announced this week that it has acquired Sheep Island, which went on the market for $1.95 million in the summer of 2020. The land trust bought the island for $1.6 million and has raised another $300,000 for stewardship, Warren said.

In 2018, Maine Coast Heritage Trust purchased the 225-acre Monroe Island and has since established a reserve. Sheep and Monroe Islands are located just outside Owls Head Harbor and can be reached by paddle boat or small boat. A little further down the coast, the land trust operates a reserve on Ash Island, which also requires a boat to get there.

But having islands kept for public use is only one piece of the puzzle, making sure the public can easily access them is another. This is where the newly constructed pier and waterfront park owned by the town of Owls Head come in.

The pier is the result of a years-long effort by Owls Head to improve access to its harbour. For decades, the city relied on an agreement with a private company that allowed the public to use a 3-foot-wide pathway along a working wharf to access the harbor.

Last year, the city completed a nearly $400,000 project to build its own pier that the public can use for multiple purposes — from paddlers launching a kayak to anglers who need to get to moored boats. With the help of the land trust, the city purchased and preserved a strip of waterfront property for a park next to the pier, which provides parking and a walking path.

The access point from Owls Head Harbor will allow greater use of the three nearby Maine Coast Heritage Trust island reserves.

“Without Carver Park, which provides that access, we’d just say, ‘These are all wonderful places to enjoy if you can get there,'” Warren said.

Improved access to the harbor and conservation of Sheep Island is not only good for Owls Head, according to Owls Head Harbor Committee member Richard Carver, it is a win for anyone who wants to experience the uniqueness of the islands located just off the coast of Maine.

Carver was a driving force behind the pier project. The riverside park bears his name. It took dedication to bring the access project to fruition, but seeing how it all came together to create a network of public access opportunities, he can’t help but smile.

“It’s just wonderful,” Carver said. “Every time I start thinking about it, I smile, because it’s so lucky to have it put together and it’s so good, not just for Owls Head, but for everyone.”

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