The Harpswell Town Lands Committee is proposing to partner with the state to improve public access to Clark Cove, left, via state land on Allen Point Road, top. The property encompasses 18 acres of meadow and woods between the cove and a series of house lots on Morse Shore Road, in the middle of the photo. (Ken Oehmig photo)
The town of Harpswell will explore a proposal to improve public access to Clark Cove via state land on Allen Point Road, although neighbors oppose the idea.
If the town partners with the state to manage the little-known property, improvements might consist of a gravel parking lot and a path to the water, where visitors could carry in kayaks. Federal and state funds may cover the cost of the work, according to the committee.
The Harpswell Select Board will conduct a site visit at noon on Friday, Oct. 6. The board will meet on Allen Point Road, south of Morse Shore Road, then walk the property.
Select Board Chair Kevin Johnson and member Jane Covey want to learn more about the possibilities for the property, they said at a board meeting on Thursday, Sept. 28. Select Board member David Chipman owns property in the area and called the proposal “a very bad idea.”
Hope Hilton, co-chair of the Harpswell Town Lands Committee, presented the proposal to the Select Board.
The property encompasses about 18 acres on the east side of Harpswell Neck, with roughly 1,600 feet of shorefront on Clark Cove. The state owns a separate parcel of about 2.3 acres on the opposite side of Allen Point Road, but that parcel is not part of the proposal.
“The state of Maine bought this land in 1972, at a time when they were actively seeking out properties to provide public access and public recreation to waters and lands for the people of the state of Maine,” Hilton said. “For whatever reason, it didn’t happen.”
Hilton said it is a beautiful property, but few people know it is public.
“It’s been sort of a sleeper site that hasn’t had any real attention,” she said.
Hilton said that conservation groups contacted her and told her the property would make a great site for public access to the water. “So I looked at it and came to the conclusion it would be a good site,” she said.
The state appears to be open to a “management agreement” with the town “to allow active use of this land for public recreation and access to the waters of Clark Cove,” Hilton said in a memo to the Select Board.
If the Select Board supports the proposal, Hilton said she would connect town officials with staff from the Maine Bureau of Public Lands.
The state would not charge for the use of the land, according to Hilton’s memo. The town would be responsible for improvements, but federal and state funds might be available to pay for the work.
“On the Town Lands Committee, our interest, of course, is providing more access to the shore and places where people can recreate, picnic, bird-watching, whatever,” Hilton said. The committee unanimously supports the proposal.
After Hilton’s presentation, Chipman said his relatives sold the property to the state. “This land was my great-great-grandfather’s — part of his farm,” he said. When his great-great-aunt died in 1971, none of the many relatives who inherited interest in the property could afford to buy out the others.
Chipman said the group sold the 18-acre parcel for $80,000 and the smaller parcel with a house for $20,000. “How things have changed,” he said.
Chipman said he grew up on Allen Point Road. He owns property on one side of the state parcel and owns an interest in property on another side. He acknowledged that he has “a bit of a conflict,” but said he also has extensive knowledge of the area.
Chipman expressed concern about an increase in traffic on Allen Point Road, which he described as a narrow road with many pedestrians that already sees an influx of speeding drivers during the summer.
“To have something here that we advertise and invite people to would just be a very bad idea for a number of reasons,” Chipman said.
But Johnson and Covey expressed openness to the idea.
“I personally think it’s worth looking into,” Johnson said. Of traffic concerns, he said, “I don’t think there’s going to be a great deal of people going there constantly.”
“It’s access to the water, which, considering how big Harpswell is, there’s only so many places like that, that you can actually go to a beach,” Johnson said.
Covey said that water access “is a huge issue for people in Harpswell who do not have personal private property on the water.” Some of the town’s existing access points are limited by having little to no parking.
“This is public land, and I’m in favor as well of looking into the possibility of a management agreement with the state,” Covey said.
A few neighborhood residents spoke against the proposal.
Jim Laughren, a neighbor, expressed concern about attracting more traffic to a street with many pedestrians, some with baby strollers or dogs.
“I think that if we were to do anything with this property, you would negatively impact that neighborhood to a rather significant degree,” Laughren said. “In addition, you would certainly negatively impact the property values of people who live in the area.”
Laughren said a state employee who visits the property every spring has discouraged use of the property in early summer to protect habitat for ground-nesting birds.
Laughren dismissed mentions of a beach, saying the shore “is all rock and mud.”
“There’s no beach,” he said. “There’s no sandy, lay-around-and-enjoy-yourself beach.”
He also disputed Hilton’s description of the property as “relatively flat,” saying it has “quite a long, steep slope” that would be difficult to navigate while carrying a kayak.
Brian Marden said he owns an interest in property next to the state land. He said visitors to the state land tend to wander onto private property.
“I understand both sides of the equation, but we do have a serious problem on the Allen Point Road with traffic and I just would hate to see more traffic coming,” he said. He added that there is “a whole row of new houses that will be seriously affected by the coming and going.”
Mary Ann Nahf, chair of the Harpswell Conservation Commission, said she often thinks about how many Harpswell residents find it hard to access the shore. This includes residents of Allen Point Road, she said.
In a town with 216 miles of shoreline, “it just seems a shame that we can’t come up with something that will work for the whole community to allow the public who do not live on the water to take advantage of it,” Nahf said.