HARPSWELL, Maine — Though it’s been more than 50 years, Judy Marsh still remembers when she and her friends rowed from the mainland to try to help fight a fire on East Gosling Island.
“I was a sophomore in high school at the time. We happened to notice a plume of smoke, and we said ‘that doesn’t look right,’” said Marsh, who now owns Paul’s Marina in Brunswick.
She also remembered the community’s response, as lobstermen and other boaters arrived on the island to fight the blaze likely started by a campfire set too high from the island’s shoreline.
“We weren’t much of a help, just a couple of girls,” said Marsh.
Marsh still wants to help save the Goslings Islands for others to enjoy. The Goslings are for sale, and Marsh said she wants to support efforts by the Maine Coast Heritage Trust to purchase the small islands and preserve them for community recreational use.
The trust is trying to raise $925,000 by Aug. 31, according to Richard Knox, director of communications for the statewide land conservation group. The islands are being offered at a discounted price to the trust for $700,000. The remainder would assure long-term management of the property, said Knox.
Fundraising is still in the beginning stages, which Knox described as “the first or second inning.”
The trust has applied for a grant through the Land for Maine’s Future Program to help purchase the islands, but the trust is also “actively talking to people,” including boaters and conservationists, to raise money.
The current owner is Mary LeMaitre, who declined a request for comment.
Her family has owned the islands for years, according to Knox.
“They need to sell them now — family reasons,” said Knox. “For all those years that they’ve owned them, they have allowed public access.”
The islands are undeveloped, with no permanent structures. Knox said he is worried that a private buyer would forbid public access.
“They could build houses and docks, and therefore people wouldn’t be welcome,” Knox said, citing a hypothetical situation.
The trust, he said, would “continue to uphold that tradition of public access.”
“If the islands come to us, that will be guaranteed permanently, forever,” Knox said.
The Goslings are made up of three islands totaling 13.7 acres named West Gosling, East Gosling, and Irony.
Nearby Lower Goose Island is privately owned, however, the southern portion of that island is publicly accessible thanks to a conservation easement of about 30-40 acres.
The islands are about a 15-minute boat ride from Mere Point Public Boat Launch in Brunswick.
Speaking from the marina, Marsh said boaters from Portland and farther south, and from as far north as Bar Harbor, travel and camp overnight at the Goslings.
A section of West Gosling is used by the L.L. Bean Discovery School, leased by the retailer over the summer. Knox said the trust will allow the school to continue, but said that L.L. Bean won’t have the exclusivity to that section that it has had in the past.
That section would be accessible by reservation, with L.L. Bean allowed first pick in order to host its school. The rest of the time would be open for other, larger groups to use.
“It’s a great site, and it would be nice to allow more people use of that side of the island,” said Amanda Devine, a regional steward with the trust.
The trust would likely help maintain the trails, said Devine.
Whether campfires and dogs would be allowed on the island will be determined after the trust meets with stakeholders.
The trust has conserved about 300 coastal islands over its history, according to Knox, including Whaleboat in Harpswell and Lanes Island off the mouth of the Royal River in Yarmouth, gifted to the trust last year. Both islands are open to the public.
The exact number of visitors to the Goslings isn’t known. However, Devine said that nearby Whaleboat Island receives several hundred visitors a year.
“Every boater here” at Paul’s Marina has used the Goslings as a place to weigh anchor and unwind, said Marsh.
Paul’s Marina may be hosting fundraisers during the next couple of months to drum up money for — and awareness of — the campaign.
Marsh said support to save the islands will come from working people who will donate what they have.
“These are not $1,000 donors,” Marsh said. “These are people that work hard, don’t have great big boats, but love the island. And they’ll give what they can give.”