Will Harris told me today that he’s “encouraged” that the public’s use of half of one of Maine’s most popular beaches will not be lost. Harris is the Director of Maine’s Parks and Lands Bureau.
On August 1, I published what I called a sad tale about one of the state’s most popular beaches. Here’s a brief summary of the story, with an update.
More than 110,000 people enjoy Cape Elizabeth’s Crescent Beach State Park every year, making it as popular as Popham and Reid. The park is a partnership between the state’s Bureau of Parks and Lands and the Sprague family’s corporation which owns 100 of the park’s187 acres including most of the road into the park, a third of the parking lot, and a quarter of the beach.
Starting in 1960 the Spragues generously leased their land to the state without charge. But when the lease expired in 2010 after 50 years, the family had expanded to new generations, some of whom would like to turn the property into cash, perfectly understandable.
Over the last two years, negotiations between the state and the Spragues have been ongoing, with the lease extended annually and the state providing about $10,000 a year for the lease.
Unfortunately, the Bureau of Parks and Lands has no money to pay more for this lease, or to purchase the property – something the Spragues initially explored with the state.
In July, Harris told me he was “looking for a permanent solution that keeps the park together,” but he alarmed a number of people by suggesting a new park entrance road that would be entirely on state land, requiring vehicles to drive over the back of the sand dunes to get to the parking lot and the park’s building that includes rest rooms and concessions.
This alarm was expressed to me most clearly by Rauni Kew, Marketing Director for Cape Elizabeth’s Inn by the Sea that lies adjacent to the park and just behind the beach. The Inn has spent a ton of money turning 2 acres of parkland into suitable habitat for the endangered Cottontail Rabbit, something Rauni proudly calls her “rabitat.”
The cottontail, once prolific from southeastern New York to southern Maine, has lost 86 percent of its habitat since the 1960s, according to the Wildlife Management Institute. Crescent Beach State Park has more cottontails than any other place in Maine.
Crescent Beach is also designated as “essential habitat” for endangered Piping Plovers. They’re in worse shape than the rabbits.
The new park road would travel right through the habitat, Piping Plovers to the left, Cottontail Rabbits to the right. That’s unimaginable and unacceptable.
Good (Maybe) News
Today Harris reported, “We are engaged actively with Sprague Corporation with assistance from the Governor’s office and the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner of our department, to have a positive result that keeps the park together.” Will sounded really optimistic.
And he surprised me by crediting me with raising the issue to a higher level, and with coming up with an idea that he has been pursuing. I suggested that, instead of a new road along the dunes, he construct a parking lot in the field adjacent to the road and a walking trail down to the park.
“Your column stimulated a response that was very helpful,” he said. He also chose to pursue my suggestion of a parking lot and walking trail, and that’s the plan that is now on the table being reviewed by the Army Corps of Engineers.
But Will now doubts he’ll need to pursue that plan. And it was at this point in the discussion, after he briefed me on his negotiations with the Spragues, that I turned the tables and complimented him.
His drastic suggestion of a new road across the dunes was a brilliant negotiating tactic that caused all interested parties – including me – to speak out and seek a solution to this problem.
Now, says Will, “We’re putting our efforts into a solution that keeps the park together.” I would
add that it is equally good news that Governor LePage has taken an interest in this and is now involved in finding a solution - because that solution will ultimately need funding.
Unwilling to specify where that money might come from, Will told me he was pursuing several possibilities. He also told me to check back in early December for another update.
You can count on it!
PHOTO: Crescent Beach with the Inn by the Sea in the background.