Maine Coast Heritage Trust, a statewide land conservation organization, has completed the conservation of 120 acres on Clark Island in St. George.

In the coming months the land trust said it will improve access to this new public preserve.

“This place is beloved by the mid-coast community, and we’re grateful to all who made generous gifts to make this project possible,” says MCHT Land Project Manager Steve Walker. “We’re also extremely thankful to the Nickerson heirs for their long-term stewardship of this property, their generous practice of permitting public use over the years, and their willingness to sell the land at a discounted price for permanent conservation.”

In the coming months, MCHT will install signs, clear trails, and make other improvements to ready the property for ongoing use by locals and visitors. MCHT encourages all visitors to respect the preserve boundaries, as it borders two private residences on the island, and to use a newly built shoreline trail that bypasses the road at the north end of the island.

Parking for preserve visitors is currently available only at the nearby Craignair Inn, which has established eight designated spaces in their newly renovated parking lot.

In addition to being a destination for hikers, bird watchers and others wishing to enjoy its natural beauty, the island serves as one of the few remaining un-fragmented coastal habitat blocks in the region, supporting a diversity of marine and terrestrial wildlife including more than 100 species of migratory birds, multiple otter dens, and many vernal pools. Much of the inter-tidal salt marsh, mudflat, and beach natural community types are designated as Significant Tidal Waterfowl and Wading Bird Habitat by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, the land trust said in a news release.

Clark Island's original settlement dates back to the 1780s with quarrying operations beginning in the 1830s. By 1890, 100 stone cutters and their families, plus supporting crews of quarrymen and sculptors, along with 51 children, lived on Clark Island. In 1892, the town of Saint George paid for a granite causeway from the mainland to Clark Island, and by 1900, 400 people – 300 of them stone cutters – were employed in the quarry operation.

The Deer Isle Granite Corp. sold the property in 1957 to the family whose members still own residences on the island.

The family that owns the island (consisting of siblings Victoria Tabor, Elizabeth Davis and Christine Morgen) will retain property on the southwest corner of the island where they have a home. In addition, the caretaker's home by the causeway will also remain with the family. Another section of the island already is covered by a conservation easement from U.S. Fish & Wildlife.

Maine Coast Heritage Trust signed an option to buy the property in March 2017. A sale price was not disclosed but the trust had been trying to raise $4.8 million for the effort.

Greg and Lauren Soutiea, who bought the Craignair Inn & Restaurant in 2018, witness daily the importance of Clark Island. The inn and restaurant are adjacent to the causeway that leads to the island. "I see how special the place is to the local community," Greg said. He said every day, including in the winter, people walk out onto the island. The conservation of Clark Island will continue to allow locals and visitors an opportunity to experience the wonders of Clark Island. Lauren and Greg plan to operate a small concession stand offering refreshments for visitors this summer.

Of the $4.8 million project costs, $1 million was received through a Coastal Wetlands Grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and $20,000 was granted from the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund, a program of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. MCHT seeks to raise an additional $125,000 as part of assuring long-term stewardship of the property. Those interested in donating to the effort should contact David Warren at MCHT at 607-4365.