BRUNSWICK, Maine — A nearly 600-acre parcel of recreation space conveyed from the U.S. Navy in January has been named after a famous local botanist.
After a lengthy debate, with Councilors Gerald Favreau, Suzan Wilson and David Watson opposed, the Town Council voted 6-3 on Monday to name the property the Kate Furbish Preserve.
The council also approved an open space management plan for the preserve and five other new parcels.
The plan will provide the town with direction for managing the parcels, including designation of new bike and pedestrian trails and areas for bow hunting and fishing.
The town is in the process of receiving open space properties from the U.S. Navy as a result of the 2011 closing of the former Brunswick Naval Air Station.
“For the first time the town of Brunswick will be able to enjoy this space,” said Business Development Manager Denise Clavette, who served as the project leader for the plan. “We will be for the first time managing users to a parcel that hasn’t been managed before.”
While councilors unanimously passed the management plan, they did not see eye-to-eye on using Furbish’s name for the larger parcel.
Furbish was chosen after a public process that began with research by Brunswick High School and finished with a popular vote on the town website and recent stakeholder meetings.
Furbish lived in Brunswick from 1835 at the age of one until her death in 1931. For most of her life, she worked as a self-taught botanist, cataloging thousands of plants and ferns in Maine. She is the namesake of the Furbish’s lousewort plant, a perennial she recognized as a new species in 1880.
During the plan’s public comment section, Helene Bisson, a Harpswell resident, spoke in opposition to using Furbish’s name and asked the council to consider the name of her family, who were early settlers of Brunswick and were forced to move when the U.S. Navy annexed their land.
“The reason I am here is that my history in the town of Brunswick started in 1718 when David Given came to Brunswick with his family,” Bisson said. “I am a descendant of David Given and we did live on that property there … for seven generations in a house that was taken by the Navy.”
“These were families that were displaced. They have a history here,” he said. “… (Furbish) did not live here. She did not research here. She did research in Aroostook County.”
Councilor Benet Pols, who worked on the open management plan, defended using the Furbish name and said the names of past inhabitants from the area will be considered for trails and other landmarks on the parcels.
“One of the fundamental problems with picking one of them to name it after is that there were 50 some-odd households at various times during the 150 years the area was occupied,” Pols said. “… (Furbish) did live here in Brunswick, she lived here in for most of her adult life, and died here and was buried here in Pine Groves Cemetery, as a matter of fact. She traveled the state to do the work because that was the nature of her work.”
Steve Walker, a Planning Board member who was part of the stakeholders group, offered another perspective in support of using Furbish’s name.
“As a professional scientist and a male, I’m always uncomfortable with many of the famed 19th century biologists and scientists always being men, where behind the scenes and often in front, it was women who were leading the charge,” Walker said. “To encourage the young women and girls of today in the Brunswick School Department, I think naming this preserve after Kate Furbish would be a great step forward in honoring women in science.”