A Christmas present to us all
For most of 2016, a simple word — change — caused more consternation in our region than the Presidential election.
We spent nearly the whole year arguing, debating, and pontificating about a proposed modification to the traffic pattern on Route 27 near the Boothbay Common. It was finally approved by the voters. In recent weeks, the debate shifted to proposed changes and expansion of the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. Neighbors objected to light pollution and bigger parking lots. The water district warned of possible drinking water contamination. It was approved by the Boothbay Planning Board.
Both projects promised to enhance our community and provide jobs, but, some Boothbay region folks just don’t want our community to change at all.
The idea of change bothered Pat and Chris Jackson, too. And they decided to do more than complain.
Since 1961, the Jackson family has owned a stunning 32-acre parcel on the Townsend Gut known as Oak Point. Many believe it may be the last remaining saltwater farm in Boothbay Harbor.
Shell middens lining the shore provide evidence that Indians once visited Oak Point to enjoy their version of clam bakes. Since maybe 1621, this thumb of land has been farmed by our European ancestors and some believe it is one of the earliest settled parcels in our neighborhood.
Pat Jackson and his family spent many happy years at Oak Point enjoying the saltwater docks, the trails and hills that invited skiing and sledding, and a freshwater pond.
Like lots of our neighbors, Pat and Chris have joined the senior citizens club and worried about what might happen to their beloved saltwater farm after they departed. Many of their neighbors did, too.
The chief fear was that the farm with its untouched open meadow might be developed into as many as 40 house lots.
So, after a lot of thought, the Jacksons turned to the Boothbay Region Land Trust offering to sell it, if the trust pledged to protect it from development. It was not a tough sell.
Last week, the BRLT asked the Boothbay Harbor Planning Board to approve their plans to conserve Oak Point and to open it up to the public for recreation. The board agreed.
“Starting this summer, we hope to provide public access, (to Oak Point) free of charge,” said Hal Moorefield, the BRLT board’s vice president.
In a public presentation to the planning board, he said the trust would be able to preserve the natural beauty of the land and invite the public to enjoy it, too. “We believe it lends itself to year round use,” he said.
Possible activities could include trails that would invite cross country skiing, a freshwater pond that could be used for skating or hockey, a hill that has been used for sledding and skiing. At one time, there was even a rope tow rigged up to help the kids climb back up to the top.
In the summer, a dock will provide access for boaters and kayakers.
Plans call for the farmhouse, believed to date from 1790, to be preserved and turned into a welcome and visitors center. It will provide ample space for meetings, nature study and other outdoor activities.
Not far from the farmhouse is a summer cabin that could become a residence for BRLT staffers to allow them to keep an eye on the place.
Barclay Shepard, a neighbor, praised the land trust’s plans. So did another neighbor, Bill Hamblen, a member of the planning board and a former selectman. Because he is a neighbor, he did not vote on the proposal.
Board Chairman Tom Churchill called Oak Point a “terrific project that is wonderful for our community.”
Denise Griffin, the chair of the town’s board of selectmen, said she was thrilled at the land trust’s plans for Oak Point because it complements the town of Boothbay Harbor’s Comprehensive Plan.
“The BRLT will continue to enhance the natural beauty and character of the town and the great Boothbay region by making more trails and waterfront available to the public on a year-round basis, free of charge,” she said in a statement.
After the board approved the proposal, Jackson told BRLT President Jack Fulmer that he was pleased.
“Boothbay has seen so many changes. The Gardens are expanding. And have you seen the (Boothbay) Center. They took down half of that hill (by the golf course). This is a chance to preserve (Oak Point) and protect it from development,” he said.
In many ways, the BRLT’s Oak Point project provides a dose of welcome relief to a community that has been visited by a year of change.
But the Jackson/BRLT proposal for Oak Point shows that preserving good things in our community can sometimes be the best change for us all.