TRESCOTT, Maine — Just outside the village of Cutler, through the blueberry barrens of Trescott and down a fog-shrouded gravel road is a gem of a destination: Bog Brook Preserve.
On a foggy weekday, the mountain ash are in full bloom, their bright red berries contrasting against the rocky ledges. Seals swim in Moose Cove, seabirds gather on nearby outcroppings, wild cranberries grow underfoot and visitors get a sense of solitude.
“There is a feeling of being by yourself in the middle of nowhere,” said Melissa Lee, regional steward for Maine Coast Heritage Trust.
The preserve, which includes a 1,000-foot handicapped-accessible trail, several small coves and beaches, and amazing views of Moose Cove and Grand Manan Island, was purchased 1½ years ago by the trust. But true to its new emphasis, the trust isn’t keeping its gem hidden — it is open to the public.
President Paul Gallay said the trust, which will celebrate its 40th anniversary next month, has protected 130,000 acres in 60 different towns and eight counties in Maine. The lands include 278 islands and 60 miles of trails.
“It is significant that we are doing something more important, something beyond conservation,” Gallay said. “We are asking ourselves, ‘What value do these projects have within the community?’ Our goal is to engage the community more broadly.”
Gallay said this new focus moves beyond conservation into a role of accessibility and purpose. “We need to see if our lands can create any economic advantages for the towns,” Gallay said.
“We are now strategically thinking about how many possible goals can a project provide.”
Gallay said the trust is now “at that sweet spot where land conservation and economic development meet and it is producing some exciting projects.”
The 1,500-acre Bog Brook Preserve includes 80 acres of blueberry land which are leased to a collaborative of 13 different growers.
“We are working with a marketing consultant and helping to increase the potential of that property,” Gallay said. Within the trust, Gallay has formed an ad hoc committee to learn what the needs of each of the communities are.
“We want to provide benefits for people not just from away,” he said.
The trust provided a small grant to the University of Maine Cooperative Extension to create local food recipe forums. In Cutler, it helped with a $15,000 boat launch; in Milbridge, it created a trail. At Lubec, the trust assisted with upgrading the emergency communications and helped fund a liaison between Down East ecot-ourism businesses and the Maine Department of Conservation.
The trust also has held more than 40 guided field trips on protected properties this year.
“To build a constituency, first and foremost we must get people on the land,” Gallay said.
At each of the trust lands, Lee and Jane Arbuckle, the trust’s director of stewardship, said an ecological study is undertaken to determine the impact of public access. At Bog Brook, a previous owner already had put in a driveway, planning to build a shore-side home, which allowed the trust to develop the handicapped-accessible trail.
But balancing the need to protect and the wishes of the public to visit is a continuous job.
“It’s tricky,” Lee said. “We are very concerned that too much traffic will change the character of this place.”
Arbuckle said a capacity assessment will continue and if too many visitors begin to undermine the pristine nature of any of the trust’s public lands, steps which could include limiting or stopping public access will be taken.
“For this particular property,” Lee said, “we have in mind to share it in a significant way.”
Bog Brook Preserve is not officially open until next summer, when signs will direct visitors, although visitors now are allowed. It is located off Moose Cove Road in Trescott.