Panoramic views of the York River’s expansive salt marshes and meandering upper reaches are what one sees from the gently-rolling Highland Farm property on Cider Hill Road in York. Boulter Pond frames the property to its northeast and beyond that, stretch the Mount Agamenticus forests.
Facing the threat that the current owner will convert 151 acres at Highland Farm to 37 house lots, the York Land Trust (YLT) together with The Trust for Public Land (TPL) have launched the Highland Farm Conservation Campaign - an effort to permanently protect the ecologically-rich field and forest habitat at Highland Farm as part of the Mt. Agamenticus to the Sea Conservation Initiative (MtA2C).
Highland Farm is the keystone property that links Mt. Agamenticus to the sea, a major goal of MtA2C. When Highland Farm is protected, conservation land along the York River will be linked to over 7,000 acres of forested lands leading to Mt. Agamenticus and beyond.
Together, YLT and TPL have secured a purchase-option contract to buy the property for $2.7 million, its appraised value. The partners have developed a detailed fundraising plan to move steadily toward the goal of raising a total of $3.1 million to cover the purchase price, project-related costs and long-term stewardship expenses. The deadline for meeting the $3.1 million goal is April 1, 2009.
Thus far, the Campaign has secured financial commitments from the Kittery Water District and several other partner organizations. Additionally, it is seeking funding from state and federal sources; individuals and foundations; and from the Town of York.
Pending voters’ approval by balloting in May, the Town will contribute $500,000, a proposal recommended unanimously by both the York Board of Selectmen and the Budget Committee. Please do your part and VOTE YES ON WARRANT ARTICLE #68 on the York May Ballot in support of a town appropriation for the Highland Farm project.
Flooded salt marsh along the pristine York River near Highland Farm.
Protect the York River and its watershed
The estuary, with its inland marshes nutrient-rich in the mix of salt water and freshwater streams, has thus far been deemed healthy - one of the healthiest and most biologically rich rivers in Maine, in fact. However, Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection has also listed the river’s watershed as among those in Maine at greatest risk of degradation from non-point-source pollution.
At risk, if Highland Farm is developed, are the 26 species of fin fish found in the River appearing at all stages of life. This makes the York River a nursery that is critical to the health of Maine’s recreational and commercial fisheries. Also at risk is a broad spectrum of birds that are dependent upon the river environment: more than 100 species of waterbirds, scores of shorebirds and songbirds, along with bald eagles, and federally endangered piping plovers, peregrine falcons and roseate terns.
Expand public opportunities for outdoor access and education
Conservation plans call for Highland Farm to remain undeveloped but open for public use. A proposed parking and picnic area will lead to a new trail system connecting to 40 miles of trails to the north with the potential of connecting to riverside trails proposed on protected lands to the south. Purchase of the Highland Farm property will also now permit students studying ecology on York Land Trust lands to observe both estuarine and upland systems in one visit.
Students enjoy education and research opportunities on York Land Trust conserved lands. Photo by C. Donnelly
View of the upper reaches of the York River from Highland Farm. Photo by K. Arsenault
Protect local wildlife habitat that is unique
Highland Farm is situated in a corner of Maine where southern and northern forest types converge. This region is the most biologically diverse place in the state -- as well as the one with the largest number of threatened and endangered species.
Highland Farm features an oak-hickory forest which is a rare plant community in Maine. Endangered black racer snakes make their homes in property’s ledges and rock outcroppings. Perhaps most critically, Highland Farm is one of only a small number of locations in the state where state-endangered, New England cottontail rabbits have been found (wildlife biologists estimate a mere 350 rabbits still exist in the state).
Highland Farm also provides habitat for endangered Eastern box turtles, Blanding’s and spotted turtles, which depend on the presence of vernal pools for breeding and upon the presence of nearby oak-pine forests for nesting.
Endangered New England cottontail, a species found on Highland Farm. Photo by J. Litvaits
Protect Boulter Pond
As part of the Kittery Water District’s water supply, Boulter Pond provides drinking water to thousands of residents of Kittery, York and Eliot. Long and narrow, and running close to Highland Farm all along the property’s northeast border, it will be vulnerable to the both point- and non-point-source pollution typically emanating from a 37-unit housing development – pollutants, for example, like those from pesticides and lawn fertilizers.
Protection of Boulter Pond’s water supply also serves to protect certain other endangered species found there: the endangered and globally-rare ringed boghaunter dragonfly, and a freshwater fish called the swamp darter, found in only four places in Maine.
Boulter Pond is the drinking water supply for thousands of people.
Photo by K. Arsenault