DEER ISLE, Maine — A coastal land trust is working with a Deer Isle group to purchase a 2-acre parcel of prime real estate that would help address a seemingly ironic problem facing many island residents in Maine: limited public access to the water.
Known as the “Bridge End” property, the parcel is located next to where the Deer Isle-Stonington Bridge first touches down on Little Deer Isle. But finding a spot offering close-up views of this often-photographed bridge isn’t the primary reason why some locals are interested in the land.
The property includes 324 feet of beach-like frontage along Eggemoggin Reach, a 300-foot-long pier and pier house, water deep enough to allow fishing boats to dock right next to the shore, at least 10 moorings, a sizable parking lot and a restaurant. Supporters say the gravel beach is also suitable for launching both trailered boats and kayaks.
Maine Coast Heritage Trust has secured an option to purchase the property — contingent on a $400,000 fundraising campaign — and then donate it to the town. And Deer Isle residents voted by a more than 3-1 ratio during this month’s town meeting to accept the gift of the property.
“The point I made at town meeting was they are not making any shorefront any more and this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Bill Haviland, a Deer Isle resident actively involved in the project. “If we don’t take it now, it is gone.”
Jean Wheeler and other leaders of the Bridge End Citizens Initiative along with Maine Coast Heritage Trust representatives have been eyeing the property for several years ever since it went on the market as part of a larger parcel that includes a house, a motel and additional shore frontage. Progress on the project was slow but an anonymous donor’s $50,000 pledge last fall provided new momentum, said Ciona Ulbrich with Maine Coast Heritage Trust.
Ulbrich said island properties with this many features — including a dock, a large beach, high-profile location and deepwater access not far from fishing grounds — do not hit the market often unless they come with a large house. The current owners, the Rosenquist family, are willing to split this property and have been patient as the project gains steam, she said.
“It is just one of those rare times,” Ulbrich said. “So often when you have a dock with deep-water frontage, there is a big house, too.”
She added, “It is such an irony that islands are surrounded by water and are having such problems with [public] water access.”
Not everyone on the island is entirely comfortable with the town accepting the gift. During the town meeting earlier this month, residents raised concerns about how the transfer will affect the tax rolls and how much it will cost the town to maintain the dock and pay for insurance.
The Board of Selectmen has been split 2-1 in support of the project, but following the town meeting decided to set up a special committee to study how Deer Isle would use the property. That committee will examine potential costs, ways to cover those expenses and what to do with the existing restaurant building.
Selectman Lew Ellis, who supports the project, said he is confident the town will be able to cover those expenses without raising taxes.
Ellis remembers spending time at the site when it was a state-owned picnic area decades ago. For him, it boils down to public access to the water to launch a boat or recreate on what he called a “wonderful beach.”
“We live on an island,” Ellis said. “We do have three additional places for shore access, but there is no parking, there’s no ramp to launch a boat … so this place is ideal.”
Ulbrich said fundraising for the project is under way with help from the Bridge End Citizens Initiative.