CUSHING, Maine — Thelma “Terry” Dodge became owner of an empty waterfront field in Cushing on Nov. 15. The next day, she died at the age of 92.
The day the deal closed, Kristi Niedermann, Dodge’s daughter, sat down next to her unconscious mother’s hospital bed and told her the sale was final.
“I’d like to think she heard me,” Niedermann said Thursday, standing near the water’s edge in the 15-acre plot that now belongs to her.
But she doesn’t plan on keeping it long.
Niedermann won’t be building a home here, or establishing a business, or setting up a grand bed-and-breakfast overlooking the cove. Instead, she wants to see through her mother’s last act — ensuring the plot is preserved for the people of Cushing.
Dodge and Niedermann want to hand the land over to the Town of Cushing. Residents there will vote to decide whether to accept the gift during the annual town meeting in March.
“We hope they do,” Niedermann said. “This is for them.”
Cushing is a rarity among Maine coastal communities in that it has no public access waterfront, according to Carol Leporati, the real estate agent who helped Dodge organize the deal. All waterfront property is privately owned. However, the longtime owners of this field, the Fales family, have always allowed people to wander and watch the birds and water.
“Through this generosity, we can finally have that guarantee,” Leporati said.
When the former owner put the 15-acre field and a home across the street on the market, Dodge contacted Leporati to get the ball rolling on the purchase. The asking price was just shy of $250,000, Leporati said.
There was some concern in the community that someone would purchase the land and attempt to develop it or do more to restrict the public’s access to it. Dodge was set on ensuring that didn’t happen.
“My mother started this whole thing without my knowledge,” said Niedermann, who has worked for 20 years at the Cushing Community School as an education technician. “When she got an idea in her head, she went for it. That mind was going all the time.”
Niedermann only learned of her mother’s plans after Dodge asked her for a ride to the bank to take out an equity loan on her home. Niedermann made sure her mother got where she needed to go, but she said Dodge did all the hard work of seeing through the purchase. Now, Niedermann is pushing the project to completion in the wake of her mother’s death.
Dodge has requested that the land be called Good Neighbors Park, in recognition of the friendship between the Fales family, which ran the town’s convenience store for generations, and the Dodge’s parents’ family, whose last name was Wales.
“The field is really iconic for us in Cushing,” Leporati said. “It’s like driving over the bridge from New Hampshire into Maine — when you see this field opening up to the water, it’s an eye catcher and you realize you’re home.”
The cove on the west bank of the St. George River is a regular spot for diggers looking to harvest clams. They’ll still be able to access the cove, Niedermann said.
In the coming months, Niedermann and Leporati plan to launch a fundraising campaign to fund improvements at the park. They hope to gather $125,000-$150,000. With the money raised, Niedermann hopes to improve access to the property — building a small parking lot, paths along the water, benches and picnic tables. Some of the funding will be set aside to cover future maintenance costs and ensure the field is mowed.
The house and lot across the street from the future park, 28 River Road, likely will be sold to help Niedermann recoup some of the costs.
If Cushing residents for some reason reject the gift of the land, Niedermann said she likely would offer it to the Georges River Land Trust on the condition that it still be open to the public.
Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter at @nmccrea213.