The Coast Walk Project

Interview: Douglas McMullin at the Babson Creek preserve

Prologue: Usually I talk to people while we are hiking a section of coast, but this fall I’m interviewing people wherever and whenever they are willing to meet. I’ll present the interviews to you as they happen, and tie them back into the Coast Walks when I pick up that thread again.

Douglas McMullin is the Maine Coast Heritage Trust‘s Regional Stewardship Manager for the MDI area. We met at the MCHT offices in Somesville on October 5, 2017. It was a beautiful day, 67ºF (19ºC) – just a little too warm to really feel like autumn, and the leaves had only just begun to change color, about two weeks later than usual.

Douglas:  I’m happy to answer as many questions as I can.

Jenn:    Let’s start with what you do? I know the role of your organization but-

Douglas:    Yeah, so I’ve been with Maine Coast Heritage Trust for a little over eleven years now. The first 10 years I spent managing land, both land that the trust owns – we have preserves – and also conservation easements west of MDI, like Blue Hill Bay all the way to Penobscot Bay. I lived here but would travel to Castine  and Isle au Haut and around up Eggemoggin Reach. And about two years ago … Did you know Billy Helprin by chance?

Jenn:    A little bit. He’s over at Somes-Meynell [Wildlife Sanctuary]?

Douglas:   Yes. Billy was the regional steward here at MDI, and when he made the shift to [Somes-Meynell] we thought, “Is it time to reconfigure?” So I changed roles and we retooled the job and I became sort of a … middle management’s the wrong word, but sort of. Our director of stewardship, Jane Arbuckle, is in Topsham and we’re trying [to create] a little more of a hierarchy that we can kind of fill some of the in-between management roles that she does. So my official title is Regional Stewardship Manager.  … In addition to being the land steward for our holdings on Mount Desert Island, and islands that are in towns of Mount Desert and Frenchboro, I serve as a supervisor for some of our other staff out of this office who are in stewardship. I have kind of a split role that way.

Jenn:    And, so what is stewardship for you guys? Is it making things available to the public? Preserving them?

Douglas:   That’s a big part of it. The basic foundation of the organization was formed in 1970, and obviously I was born that year, so I wasn’t there to hear the statements from Peggy Rockefeller and Tom Cabot, but [the mission] was to protect the undeveloped character of the main coast. And what came from that … was also to protect traditional uses. There’s habitat protection in there as well. And by and large, unless there’s a substantial habitat concern, or ecological attribute that you really want to protect, some sensitive nesting island or what not, we make our islands available to the public, … after studying the property a little bit [and]  doing a basic carrying capacity [study], trying to evaluate ‘what can this property really withstand.’ If we put it on the website on MDI with two million visitors to the Park, we might have way more visitors than we want to one of these preserves. [So we ask,] “What’s the experience we want here?”

We use that to [decide] how much publicity a place might get, or how many people we draw to it. How big a parking lot it has dictates how many people can go there. So yeah, public access is a huge component, but also habitat protection, and there’s definitely a mix. A lot of the work that we’ve done, we don’t even hold onto. We’ve done a lot of pre-acquisitions for the park, for US Fish and Wildlife, for the Coastal Refuge. There’s a number of islands that we’ve just bought outright, held ‘til the federal government had the money, and then we transfer it to them. We’re a little bit more nimble. We can act quickly, whereas their budgeting cycle can take a lot longer. All of a sudden a key habitat acquisition comes up. So we work with a lot of those players. But when we hold it, it’s managed for habitat and for appropriate public access. It’s never going to be an ATV park, almost certainly. But for low impact, for trail hiking, camping where it’s appropriate, [we provide] for those kind of uses. And then in addition to that, it may be making trails, which includes bog bridging and kiosks and signs and all that kind of stuff. It may be just the cleaning up of blow-downs, or managing the resource of the areas that in MDI that have big die-off from red pine scale. Places in Castine have terrible die-off because of balsam fir wooly adelgid, and because of spruce budworm prior to that. So forest management in places where maybe it’s not natural because the forest wasn’t already natural. It wasn’t like it was ever left alone. It’s been altered for the last 300, 350 years.

So active land management, and then in addition to land that we own, we hold 300-and-some-odd conservation easements. Those are restrictions on privately owned land [and] very often do not include public access … . Every easement is different. They’re individual tools that are tailored when a landowner either sells, or very often gives away, certain types of development rights or other rights to protect that property’s character, for the future and perpetuity. The classic example is a set of grandparents [who] own a waterfront property with a bunch of acreage and a nice saltwater farm, or something like that. They love it, they want to keep it that way. Their concern is that their great-great-grandkids are going to want to sell it all off for a few million dollars to buy a car collection, or whatever. That’s an extreme of course, but that extreme is not uncommon. Let’s subdivide, let’s sell, let’s get our money, when the people don’t care about it anymore.

So by putting an easement on it, they can insure that it keeps a certain level of consistency, even long after they’re gone. And that’s the basic model of what easements are. And again, every one’s different. Some have a lot of development, some don’t allow development, some, if it’s a big property and [the development] is all set back from the water, [the easement] would just protect the water’s edge. … It depends, again on the easement.

Jenn:    Sounds incredibly complicated.

Douglas:   It is. When [the organization] first started, rewinding back to 1970, the basic attitude as I’ve heard it explained, was that Maine Coast Heritage Trust would be around for a decade. ‘We’re going to do a whole bunch of conservation work, we’re going to bring in all this expertise, we’re going to raise money … but when we do it it’s going to be transferred to the National Park, to the Nature Conservancy, to other entities. … We’re not going to hold the easements, we’re not going to hold the land.’ And some time around the early 80s that didn’t work out, and all of a sudden there was no holder for some places. ‘Oh, we’ll hold those.’ Next thing you know it snowballed. [They] realized the whole concept of ‘land trust’ needed to be here to fill that niche, and of course it’s only grown in the 40 years since then. But there’s a lot of work that we did that the park now holds. There are islands that we own that have [National] Park easements that we did, but now we happen to own [the island] because 40 years later … the owner gave it to us, but there’s an easement that we did 40 years ago and the Park happens to own [the easement]. There’s this funny full circle that’s happened on a number of properties. It’s interesting how that’s played out.

Jenn:    So from what you just said it sounds like you need wildlife biologists, conservation lawyers, accountants,… I’m trying to picture the team that goes into some of this.

Douglas:   In the stewardship department we are jacks-of-all-trades and we all have very different backgrounds. And we definitely have people who have wildlife backgrounds, who have botany backgrounds especially. But some folks like myself, my background was outdoor education. So certainly in school I had a resource-type education but my degree wasn’t in that. Initially, here on the island, I was a climbing guide at Atlantic Climbing School, then I had a sail charter business.

Jenn:    No kidding!

Douglas:  Yeah. I was with that kind of stuff for a long time. That grew old, the sailing business. I was a commercial pilot and I decided that was too volatile. I already knew about Maine Coast, and I had already done work with other people, doing land management trail work and stuff. I had a little background in that. And then this job opened up in 2005 or 6, and I took it. It was great, but I did not have a real lot of experience in land management at that point. You learn. The joke is that when you come onto the job it’s a two to three year initial inauguration learning period.

Jenn:    Like an apprenticeship?

Douglas:   Yeah, just in terms of all the nuts and bolts, the histories of all these different projects, every single one of those easements that I mentioned – I have 60-some odd that I steward. And that’s not a lot. [At Acadia] National Park, one person stewards almost 300. But they don’t maintain landowner relations like we try to. We try to meet with every landowner, to walk the property with them. The park can’t afford the time to meet with everybody. We have a different model is all. It’s [about] learning all those relationships, meeting all those people, learning the properties, learning the ins and outs, learning the basic legalities of easements, working with our attorneys, all that kind of stuff. That takes multiple years to really get your head around and become effective. Some things you can do really well from year one. The other things I still feel like, “How did I miss that 10 years ago?” Still playing catch up. Because it is a jack-of-all-trades job for sure. We do have staff that have wildlife backgrounds. A lot of the time we hire a contractor though. If we acquire a large property like the Kitteridge Brook, that has substantial wetlands, an interesting complex of habitat types, we’ll hire a specialist to come in and do what we call a natural resource inventory. They’ll do community maps, they’ll make an assessment of inventory, of important plant species, wildlife sightings, all that kind of stuff to let us know what’s there, and what features we should be aware of when we think about managing the property in the future.

And it’s not often that there’s something that’s really sensitive or even endangered, but there are things that we might not notice ourselves. So they’ll educate me on it. … I’ll have the GPS points, I’ll go find that colony of that plant or whatever it is, and I’ll understand it and know hey, we shouldn’t put a trail right near here. That kind of stuff. We definitely rely on specialists. A lot of our properties will do bird surveys, just to get a handle on what kind of birds are using it for migration, but also for songbirds, passerines, [to learn] what populations we’re serving with the habitat that we have on the property. It’s interesting to us and helps us manage the properties well.

Jenn:    That’s such a broad section of knowledge that you must need.

Douglas:  Yeah, you learn it on the job. We hired a gentleman here to replace me in my old territory. He came from the Appalachian Mountain Club. His expertise is trails; trail construction and dealing with volunteers, which is also really important. But it’s not the same as somebody with a wildlife background or a botany background. We all kind of bring different expertise, and we put it all together. [Because of] my background with running boats and with a captain’s license, and having done all that boat training, I helped do a lot of the staff training and boat-buying, as a side part of my job. My job isn’t really [boats], but we need to do that, so I take on the responsibility because I can. … We kind of build our jobs around our expertise.

Jenn:    So was it the boat stuff that brought you to MDI? Are you from here originally?

Douglas:   I already had an attraction to Maine, and then went to college in Unity – Unity College, and just stayed in Maine after that. But always trying to find a niche – as you I’m sure are well aware, living on MDI [means figuring out] how do you make a living and do something that you enjoy? Hence all the things that I pursued before I got to this job. Trying to find a way to carve out an existence here. … I was 36 when I was hired here, I’m 47 now. I didn’t start my charter business until I was 28 or 29. I didn’t start flying until I was 31 or 32, and I flew for five or six years. Most everybody here has an interesting [background] but all of us share the same interest in land conservation and the value of what the organization is doing. Everybody has that same unifying [belief] … They really believe strongly in land conservation, and if you’re going to do a job in land conservation, there’s no question that this is a great organization to work for. …

Jenn:    It seems like a really cool organization.

Douglas:   It is, and every organization has its strengths and weaknesses, but they treat staff well. You’re never going to be rich working for a non-profit, but I feel like we’re well compensated for what we do, and they take care of the staff. This is really getting far off-field for what you want to know, but I think it helps create a staff that has a really strong work ethic. They feel valued, and I think there’s nobody here that doesn’t put in well more than 100%. You take time when you can, and you go overdrive when you have to.

Jenn:    Tell me about this place [the headquarters building]. You guys built this, what, 10 years ago now?

Douglas:   Not quite. It was 2009. Did that and the barn all at the same time. The organization started in Bar Harbor. The first director … I may get this wrong, was it Ben [Emory] or was it Elmer Beal? I get them backwards. But Elmer Beal from Burning Tree was one of the early directors ….

Jenn:    No kidding! [Making mental note to call Elmer for an interview.]

Douglas:   Oh yeah. I can’t recall if he was the first one in ‘70, or if it was Ben Emory, and then it became Elmer at some point. [The office] was right downtown in Bar Harbor, and then for years in Northeast Harbor. At some point, we needed a southern Maine office, which actually became our main office, which was in Brunswick at the time. Now it’s in Topsham, and it’s been there for quite a long time. I can’t recall what year they moved to the Kittridge, that building across from the One-Stop. For years they were in that, and they were there when I started in 2006. They acquired this property … probably in 2004. Somebody in the family had passed away, and I think we purchased it at auction, if I remember correctly.

Jenn:    I’m interested in how it all came to be. I remember watching this place get built.

Douglas:   So this land was acquired, and I believe early on [the idea was], “Well this could be a place for an office.” With the salt marsh protected down below, there’s enough space well away from that. There was a house here at the time that they looked at salvaging and having it be part of the office, but it was just way too far gone. I remember seeing it and it was really bad. The idea was to build near the road for minimal impact to Babson Creek and to the salt marsh and for visibility. Keeping it low for that reason, single story. And that was also another reason for the half barreled roof. The architect was trying to be interesting as well.

Jenn:    It’s a cool building.

Douglas:  I think they also wanted it low [with] a muted-colored roof and all so that you really wouldn’t see it from very far. You know, thinking of [the view from the] mountains and down in the marsh. And to have it be as green as was affordable. To do the whole LEED thing, for what that was worth. [Ed.note: Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design is a certification process for energy-efficient and sustainable buildings.]

Jenn:    Wasn’t this one of the first LEED-certified buildings in [Hancock] County?

Douglas: It’s possible, I don’t remember. The little LEED plaque’s out there. It’s not the top level, it’s the next level down or something. I can’t remember what the different LEED levels are.

Jenn:    I just remember it being very impressive at the time.

Douglas:   Yeah, it seemed like it. It was built [to be] a nice workspace, [and also] community space, and we do use it that way. During business hours, and sometimes after, these conference rooms get used by other groups.   Acadia Senior College very often uses these rooms. Other groups will come by; the Park even, when they want to have a meeting space away from the Park will use this. There’s a larger one next door, too. [The rooms] open up into a giant L … It’s not a huge offering but it creates one more place people can have meetings or occasionally host other events. There was a thing with Solarize MDI this summer. We held an open house with ReVision, where they could have people come by, because we have a ReVision system here. But other than that it was meant to be green, as low as impact as reasonable, and reasonably attractive. Some people think the building looks great, some people hate it, by the way.

Jenn:    I think it’s a cool building. I like it.

Douglas:   I like it, but some people don’t. I can show you around. The workspace is wonderful.

Jenn:    Oh I’d love to take a look.

Douglas: It’s really a nice workspace to be in. The only negative about the section where the offices are is that it’s a bit of an echo chamber. It was really bad when we first moved in, but they added sound panels on the ceiling that do a pretty good job of making it tolerable. The architect did a lovely job making it look nice, but there are some basic things that I wish they’d considered. Like if you look at this roof entry, you have two roof lines meeting a center area. It’s all ice dams right in there. But other than that it’s been a good building.

And then there’s the barn across the street – we needed a place to serve as our stewardship operation, to store equipment, store boats … We have a lot of seasonal staff for trails, and [seasonal] assistants that do a lot of our stewardship work. It’s a place to operate from, it’s not an office space. That was built at the same time. As an aside, this [the headquarters building] was definitely not inexpensive. … People [on the building committee] were getting nervous [about the expense], and said  ‘Well, let’s just build a little metal building over there and call it good.’ [Other] people were horrified of the idea of a metal building on the side of the road right here. Our director of stewardship knew a timber frame guy in southern Maine. All the quotes we got up here were pretty high. This guy wanted to build a timber frame up here, wanted it to be roadside where people could see it, and he built it at a very reasonable price, so we have a nice timber frame stewardship barn.

Jenn:    I’d love to see it.

Douglas:  It’s a lovely building. We could do more with it in terms of organizing. Every year it gets a little better. It’s one of those things that takes a while til you can really fit it out the way you want it. Our main office for leadership is in Topsham, but there are only two stewards down there, and only one or two land protection staff. Versus [here] there are three full time stewards, [and] we each have assistants. We have six stewardship staff – three that are full time, three that are here for a good chunk of the year, anywhere from six to nine months, another three to five summer-only, trail-type staff, and five land protection staff. Our conservation attorney, Karen Marchetti. And our GIS staff person. So there’s far more actual conservation work happening out of this office, and actual stewardship work than there is down in Topsham.

Jenn:    Sounds like it must be hopping around here in the summers.

Douglas:   It can be, or it can be dead, ’cause everyone’s out in the field.

Jenn:    Is that where everyone is now? It seems really quiet.

Douglas:   Yeah, all the stewardship staff are out in the field right now. My assistant Matt is off monitoring easements, and there’s two people out on Saddleback Island. I don’t know where the land protection staff are. They’re probably out meeting with landowners. It’s always a mix. It varies from week to week, day to day. But this is the hub for all this work, between this office and that barn basically. [There’s also] a little preserve, … we have a mowed [path] down. [Ed.note: This is called the Babson Creek Preserve]  I don’t know if you’ve walked down there before, but there are these lower fields. [Pointing to map]

We can walk down there … it’s all grass, it was already that way when we acquired it, and we mow a path down there. The whole thing was just mowed by bush hog, but I went down recently and mowed it again so the paths aren’t covered with grass clippings and what not.

Jenn:    So you really are a jack-of-all-trades! Running the place, mowing the lawn.

Douglas:  The mowing-the-lawn thing is an excuse to get out of the office. … If no one’s here I say, “I think I’ll go mow the lawn.” We aren’t actually mowing the [field], we have somebody who comes and does that. This is just going out to keep the path open. We’re basically driving a go-cart around the paths, so it’s kind of fun, to be honest. But we all pitch in. I mean even Tim Glidden, our president, he comes out on staff workdays. He’ll show up and drag brush with the best of us. … I don’t get to do a lot of field work anymore, so any time I can I go out and do it.

Jenn:    You said you were out in the field last week?

Douglas: A lot of last week was easement monitoring. I was crunched with getting easements done, so I was visiting landowners last week. And flying, I flew a set of easements on Monday too.

Jenn:    What does that mean?

Douglas: I didn’t fly myself. I don’t fly anymore. But renting a plane and pilot just to get aerial photos of easement properties.

Jenn:    That sounds like so much fun.

Douglas:  Yeah. So I hadn’t flown in a while. I used to all the time out of Bar Harbor airport. Now it’s been almost 10 years. So it’s fun for me to go fly again.

Douglas:  I was at the high school earlier meeting Hannah Podurgiel. She’s a science teacher. She helped get the connection for the school. The interface there, where you pull into the back parking lot by the tennis courts – it’s very difficult to find your way to the preserve. [Ed.note: this is the Kittredge Brook Forest preserve.] So I’m trying to see how [we can] retool this to make it more user-friendly. … I’m working with her to do that.

Jenn:    I didn’t even know there was a connection back there.

Douglas:   Here, you can see it on this [looking at the map above] … The primary entrance is at the high school. You park back by the tennis courts, and you walk along the retention ponds. This is National Park land. I can show you this loop: it’s a mixture of Park and our land, and you can actually walk from there all the way back to Pine Heath Road. Right now you can’t connect the east side and west side but we’re working on figuring that out someday.

Jenn:    Very cool. … How about I give you an excuse for getting out of the office? Want to show me around?

Douglas:   Yeah let’s do that. … Let me show you the office first.

Jenn:    It’s beautiful. Look at all this light.

Douglas:  Yeah it’s really nice. These light tubes [in the ceiling] let natural light in.

Jenn:    And whose dog is this?

Douglas:   Marty Crone, way back in the back corner. She does our GIS work. She fosters dogs who have been rescued, and finds a home for them. They come here and get exposure to people. It’s kind of a neat thing. We have a lot of dogs come through here.

Jenn:    Full service office.

Douglas:   Everyone’s into it, so it’s fun. That’s Jack.

Jenn:    Hey Jack.

Douglas: So this is just cubicles and office spaces here.

Jenn:    And the odd owl.

Douglas:  Yeah. A barn owl. And then here we have a … library, kitchenette, bathrooms. Here’s the supply room, we have a nice plotter/scanner for doing survey plotting and scanning and printing, so we can print full size maps.

Jenn:    I have to admit, I’ve been curious about what was inside ever since it went up.

Douglas:  Yeah that’s it. It’s really a nice workspace. Want to go over to the barn first, or you want to go [see the marsh] first?

Jenn:    Let’s go down [to the marsh].

Douglas: [There’s] the main entrance to the trail – there’s a parking space down there, and a little kiosk. I want to improve our signage because we have our office sign there, which I don’t particularly love. The problem is I think we’ve maxed out our sign allowance for this lot with the town of Mount Desert.

Jenn:    Really?

Douglas: Yeah there’s a very specific square footage allowed, which we’re happy to stick by. But that sign is just too big. I’d like to see it redone so the sign could include that there’s a preserve here, so you know to turn in. I don’t think people really [know] about that, unless they discovered it some other way.

Jenn:    Well I certainly hadn’t.

Douglas:   Yeah. It’s not heavily publicized, but there are a lot of people that pull in, and often times I see two or three cars here at early morning, because folks come down to birdwatch along the side of Babson Creek. We’ve occasionally hosted morning bird walks here, because it is usually pretty productive, especially for wading birds. Once in a while if I’m just sick of being at my desk I can pop out here and take a little walk around the track of grass area. In the summer the grass gets to be thigh-high, so we keep the path mowed for ticks and so people can feel like they can walk down here and not be bush-whacking.

Douglas:  The one funny thing we have had happen down here occasionally … is one of these odd things that’s impossible for us to navigate perfectly. Babson Creek is duck-hunting habitat.

Jenn:    Oh?

Douglas: Well first of all, in the intertidal marsh we have no say. You can hunt there no matter what. Even if we were ardently against any kind of hunting we couldn’t prevent it.

Jenn:    Really?

Douglas:   That comes back to the old colonial law of access to shore for fishing, fowling, and [navigation].

Jenn:    I forgot fowling was in there!

Douglas:  They can’t stand up here and do it but they can down there. But the organization [supports] traditional use. Respectful deer hunting, bird hunting, that kind of thing. We do allow it on many preserves if it’s allowed by the town that [the preserve] is in. In Castine, we have a number of preserves on the Neck, and it’s archery-only there, so we allow archery hunting at the preserve. Most of the neighbors want us to do it because the deer populations are out of control, so it’s not a problem for us, but a lot of times people are upset when they see the occasional duck hunter out here. And the organization’s not necessarily anti-hunting. We don’t go out of our way to invite lots of hunters to our preserve, but if somebody asks us we’ll say yes, usually, if it’s allowed by the town.

Jenn:    This is gorgeous.

Douglas: You can’t quite get away from road noise here, unfortunately, but it’s still lovely down here.

Jenn:    You can always pretend it’s the wind. Almost.

Douglas:  My daughter goes to the Community School here in Somesville. They walk out to this Whalesback, that’s one of their outings. Once in awhile I’ll be down here and I’ll see them on the rocks across the way, and wave over at them.

This is something to note. There are several of these little stations here in the marsh. I think there’s three total. This is a measuring station. [Ed.note: It’s monitored by the Northeast Coastal and Barrier Network, which is part of the National Park Service.] This guy Jim [Lynch] does it. [Ed. note, I interviewed Jim a year later.] They’re monitoring marsh migration and sea level rise, using salt marshes in different places to track that. I think there’s two more hidden out in the marsh on this side as well. He comes periodically to check the sensors, which are hidden in those PVC tubes.

Douglas: The preserve wraps around that tree line … I need to walk over there – see that tall vegetation against the tree line on the edge of the marsh?

Jenn: Yeah.

Douglas: That’s worrying. I don’t think I’ve noticed that before. It looks like Phragmites from here, which is an invasive … and it worries me because there was phrag upstream, where the creek comes down under the bridge, which we worked with the park to get rid of. [Ed.note: Phragmites is a tall, extremely invasive wetland grass.] Maybe it isn’t, but it has that look. … It seems unlikely that it would’ve grown that large that quickly, but I’ll go find out. That’s a reason to take a spin over there next week.

Douglas: A lot of folks wander down here, especially in the morning hours. … It’s a cool little spot to go for a walk if you live close by – it’s not meant to be a destination like the Park is, but folks bring their dogs and walk down here.

Jenn:    It’s beautiful even if all you do is drive by.

Douglas: Yeah. I’ve been wanting to do an astronomy night down here. You’re far enough off the road that it’s not too annoying, and the traffic gets pretty light here come nighttime. You could have a couple scopes right in the middle of the field, you’ve got a great sky view. The One-Stop’s a bit of an annoyance in terms of the light it throws off, but it’s not terrible. Those mosquitoes!

Jenn:    Yeah I think one got me in the middle of the back.

Douglas:  It’s amazing that they’re still coming out so aggressively in October. These warm days. … So what else can I tell you about … our stewardship work?

Jenn:    What’s fascinating you right now? Like, everybody’s got some project going on. What’s yours?

Douglas: I don’t know if fascinated is the right word, but the thing that I’m most deeply involved in with right now is community-based work with Frenchboro. I’ve been working out there for a couple years. It’s a really interesting community. Some interesting folks live out there. It’s a very challenging place, given that it’s very limited ferry service. And the challenge there is that Maine Coast, for a number of reasons, we have a tremendous amount of land conserved. We basically surround the community. And the community wanted the initial conservation there, but it’s definitely had impacts to their tax base.

Jenn:    Wow.

Douglas: They’re trying to survive. Trying to strike a balance between conservation and a community being able to exist. It’s been really interesting working with folks out there, and trying to figure out how we can be relevant. We can’t just undo the conservation, so we do what we can to provide help when we can. If it’s additional projects, if it’s trying to find grants or additional money – we’ve helped fund a lot of small projects for them. … Not all the money they need, but we help them seek larger grants, seed money or its match, or that kind of stuff. … We go out and do work with the school periodically, … go out for an overnight and do outings with the school kids. There’s three or four kids. They don’t have those services out there, and they can only get specialists from the [school] district out there twice a month. We can go out other times when the district can’t come out, and … add a little something. We can do outdoor education, we can add a little component to their education that they can’t get otherwise; it’s a fun thing that we can provide, and that goes back to my background of outdoor education.

Jenn:    How big is the town?

Douglas:  I get different numbers, because some people aren’t staying at all for the winter. But I think year-round in theory there’s upwards of 30 people.

Jenn:    It’s that small?!

Douglas: Oh yeah. There were literally three kids in the school the last two winters. I think there are four this year.

Jenn: That makes Islesford sound huge. [Ed.note: Isleford/Little Cranberry Island has a year-round population of about 70 people.]

Douglas:  Oh yeah. They’re tiny. And then they have a ferry … There’s only two days a month where you can get a round-trip ferry twice. So if you want to go out in the morning [and] come back off in the afternoon, or if you want to leave in the morning [and] come back in the afternoon for a doctor’s appointment there’s two days a month you can do that.

Jenn:    Wow.

Douglas:  They only have four ferries a week. So they’re definitely shut off out there.

The other thing I’m spending a lot of time on is trying to figure out the cost of doing stewardship. Land conservation is not cheap, both real cost and staff time costs. [We’re] trying to figure out where we can be more efficient. Aerial monitoring is one example, knowing that aerial monitoring is not going to be as effective as walking on the ground, but can you find a balance where you monitor from the air two years, and then the third year you go walk down on the ground. Something like that to try to stretch as far as we can, basically. We’re exploring ways to be more efficient. That’s another constant effort.

Jenn:    Where does your funding come from?

Douglas: We get grants and we also receive federal and state funding from numerous sources. But a lot is private donation. Large and small, everything from membership level up to major donors. And we do have endowments, but they don’t cover everything. They’re definitely in the process right now of growing the endowments. [Pointing] Just a tiny little kiosk, and sign-in box, which doesn’t get much use. I came by earlier, and put my name in there to help seed it.

Occasionally we’ll have groups here and I’ll weed-whack that. [pointing to the stone seating circle] We do winter classrooms and we can use this as sort of a staging area for outdoor [education]. … [Want to ] walk over to the barn, and the gardens?

Jenn:    Yeah!

Douglas:          One of the things that you always hear, a [constant] fear with land conservation these days, is the change in society. There’s far less outdoor time. Kids being more welded to screens, and all that kind of stuff, other activities. Kind of concerned about land conservation remaining relevant for the next generation. So what relevant things can we provide that might create a connection with land? One fairly easy one is community garden space. We use this for both community gardens and also to help co-host the Kids Can Grow program. That’s a program out of the Cooperative Extension, and they have to find places to do it.

Jenn:    So about how many kids do you have here?

Douglas: The Kids Can Grow program is maxed out at 16. I think they had 16 and one dropped out because of timing. It’s always been full for the most part. … We pull together a bunch of Master Gardener volunteers. Basically [the kids] come here, they learn the principles of gardening in these raised beds. We provide all the materials, the soil, and the wood. They bring home soil, they make their own garden beds at home. They do monthly visits here, but then they have master gardener visits at their house, so the kids are learning to grow food at home.

Jenn:    That’s so cool.

Douglas: At the end of the year they do a big thing where they harvest all the stuff, they make pizzas on grills, and they use the vegetables from the gardens at the end. It’s not that big of a hurdle to make it happen. We have one staff person who stays involved with it, basically, and it’s really productive. The challenge is keeping enough of the master gardeners around, but so far we’ve been able to do that. All of these beds are for the Kids Can Grow program, and [from] around that fence on is community garden space. We also have some community garden space down at Kelley Farm, in Tremont, but it’s not quite as polished as this yet. It’s evolving now. I’m hoping to improve the fencing this year and kind of amp it up a little bit next year.

This larger bed here, there was a teen agricultural program that we were trying here for a couple years. It never quite took off, and the funding dried up too. It was always a little more difficult to get high school students to participate. It was a paid thing, a summer job, eight bucks an hour or something. They worked so many hours a week, helping to do agricultural work. They’d grow vegetables, the vegetables went to local food pantries, soup kitchens, that kind of thing. The idea was engaging students to grow food, and the food went to good places. We already had that program at Aldermere Farm at Rockport – we have a nice farm down there that was given to the trust a number of years ago. We were trying it to see if that model might work here, and it just didn’t quite take off, and then the funding wasn’t there to maintain it. We’re turning all the beds into more community garden space because people want it. Which is nice.

Jenn:    It sounds like a great program.

Douglas: It is a great program. For whatever reason it just didn’t fly. Maybe we’ll try it again at some point. For now we’re just doing community gardens and Kids Can Grow, and no Teen Ag right now.

This is our barn. We have a mixture of trailer boats that we can launch the day of [a trip], and we have two boats on the moorings that are in the water all summer. A 28-foot Ellis and a 22-foot Webbers Cove, and these two skiffs as well that we use for island access and for coastal cleanups and all that kind of stuff. … These are great boats.

Jenn: It’s a gorgeous building.

Douglas:  Yeah it is. We had a nice event here last Saturday night. It was a volunteer member appreciation event. We’ll do it again next year. We had a couple [of musicians], Peter Lindquist and Gus, I can’t remember Gus’ last name. He’s a high school student but he’s a really good violin player.

Jenn:    La Casse.

Douglas:  La Casse, thank you. They played. We had Bar Harbor Catering. We had a nice soup out of Bar Harbor Community Farm vegetables. We had Old Dog Bakery. It was just this fun, low key thing, a thank you to everybody, and they had a cider press going and what not. Mostly outside, but they had the barn all opened up. It’s a nice space. …. The kiosks that go on our preserves get built in here. We store them until they go to various places. … If somebody needs one down in Lubec, this is where we build it and they’ll come pick it up. We build them in here as summer projects.

All these registration boxes are being built to replace broken ones. We have a stash of these always ready to go. Kind of a pain to make those. This is kiosk posts that have already been cut and routed, ready to go, … they go to those roofs that are piled up over there. This is actually a new [sign] template. This is what we’re switching to, this new, routed blue with a logo on the side.

Jenn:    That’s pretty, I like the blue.

Douglas:  Yeah, it’s nice. Harriman Point’s a preserve just on the far side of Blue Hill Bay.  … We have a little shop space [in here]. This is heated. Everything else gets cold for the winter, but we shut the doors in here, and that way if you need to do a little bit of work, like paint a sign or file a chainsaw you can come in here and be warm enough.

Jenn:    What’s the Furieuse Battery?

Douglas:          Oh, those were an attempt at making homemade signs. It didn’t work out very well. The Furieuse was a French Ship.  … There are two cannon batteries on the point in Castine at Witherle Woods Preserve. They’re called the Furieuse Battery because the cannons came from [the Furieuse]. The Witherle Woods Preserve‘s got incredible Revolutionary War history, and some War of 1812 history, though the Revolutionary War history’s far more interesting than the War of 1812 history there. There was a battle there. It was the greatest naval loss prior to Pearl Harbor.

Jenn:    Really?

Douglas:          Yeah, it was amazing. Paul Revere was [one of] the commanders on the ships,

Jenn:    In Castine?

Douglas:          Castine was, I never knew this until I worked over there – we had a great archeological project over there with a guy named Ric Faulkner from UMaine, who did the digs over there. But there’s wonderful history on the place, and basically because of the way it sticks out in the bay, it was a strategic point for ships. There were a lot of good anchorages, it was central to the bay, and … the English, I think French, the Dutch, and the US all wanted Castine, back from the 1600s up until the Revolutionary War. And the British were … I’m going to hack this a little bit … so read up on this. But the basic gist was that the British, at the time, were holding the point. They had forts, they called them redoubts. I think it was General Lovell [Ed.note: Lovell commanded the American ground forces at the battle.] And the US fleet, the Marines of 1779 came up from Massachusetts and besieged the island. There’s an area called Trask Rock where they landed, and there was fighting back and forth down the bank. They never were able to take it … they waited for reinforcements. They had enough people to take it, [and] then they got intel that the British Fleet was coming, and then kind of … they waffled, they didn’t storm in time, and finally the British Fleet did come, and the British Fleet was overwhelming, [the American fleet] ran up the Penobscot River and scuttled all the ships. They sunk the whole Fleet. They didn’t want to give them to the British. And then they walked back to Massachusetts. … That was called the Penobscot Expedition of 1779. 

Jenn:    I’ll have to look that up.

Jenn:    These are gorgeous doors.

Douglas:  I was just going to tell you about that. … That was one of the [benefits] of somebody who wanted to build a showpiece that he could maybe get business from. We had spec’d out pretty simple doors. And he was like, “No no, can’t do that, … that’s not going to look good enough.” So he did the doors on his own accord. That’s Western Red Cedar. He had old telephone poles that he milled into doors, and if you look at them closely, in a few places you can find bullet holes … from people shooting at telephone poles, and shooting at road signs in Washington [County] or wherever it came from. When they were milling it, the saw blade would hit the lead, they’d get this ‘poof’ of lead out of the thing. They were like, “What’s going on?” They finally carved the bullet out, found a bullet they just cut in half.

Jenn:    That is hilarious.

Douglas:  There weren’t tons of them, but it was enough that they kept finding them. He did a nice job with those.

Jenn:    Who’s the builder?

Douglas: Charlie Farrell out of Pownal, Maine. I don’t recall the numbers, but my recollection is that the quotes we were getting for a metal building exceeded what he came in at to do this as a timber frame. So we got lucky, we got a really nice barn. And I know that he got, I think three projects out of it.

Jenn:    Well I have to say, that’s pretty smart of him. I mean, right here on the main road.

Douglas:  Yeah. Jane Arbuckle, our Head of Stewardship, made it happen. She was horrified at the thought of a metal building here, and she started making calls, and knew Charlie, and somehow it all came together and this is what got built. He did all the milling down at his shop in Pownal, then the crew showed up and they fired this thing together frame by frame. It was amazing how fast they built it once they got here. All the site work was done. The slab was in, the frost wall was in, and then they framed it up really quick. It was pretty amazing. In the winter time we put two boats in here, and just kind of button it all up.

Jenn:    Cool.

Douglas: If you come by here first thing in the morning in the summer, you’ll see all of our seasonal trail staff, and our various stewardship assistants will be here. There’ll be like six cars parked, everybody’s loading gear into trucks, and they all vanish for a day or a week sometimes. That crew serves not just MDI, they serve all the territories within a reasonable drive from here. So they might do a week down in Lubec on the Bold Coast, on one of our preserves there, and then come back. That kind of thing.

And we house them all. We have a cool property that was donated over on Indian Point Road. The Blue Horizon [preserve], I don’t know if you’ve ever walked down there. It’s about a half mile in from Town Hill, coming down Indian Point Road on the right-hand side. When you’re driving on the road there’s no sign, but if you look to the right you’ll see a gate and a Blue Horizon sign. It’s almost a third of a mile of fire road down to these cabins, but you can get to the shore there. There’s a preserve, there’s a trail. We use the buildings that were already there for staff housing for now.

Jenn:    When you say it’s a preserve, like I could go?

Douglas:  Yeah. Absolutely, it’s very well used. There’s two trails on each side of the driveway that get you down to the shore. It’s sort of a cobbly, rocky shore. It’s quite nice. …. It’s a very popular dog walking spot.

Douglas:  One thing that might be of interest is just how we operate. I mentioned that we have land protection staff here. We have staff that are project managers – their focus is to acquire new conservation land. Once we acquire it the stewards are the ones who manage the land, so we’re all paired together. We work as a team to build new work; they’ll pull stewards in for perspective on a property before we acquire it. There’s a combination of land protection and stewards on any given region that work together. Misha Mytar is the Land Protection staff person for MDI, and I’m the steward for MDI. So we’re partnered and we both have our own responsibilities, but we all work together very closely. And sometimes it’s more than just one. Frenchboro is Bob DeForrest, so Bob and I overlap as well. Any new conservation on MDI, if it comes about, would be Misha making that happen.

Color’s coming quick, huh?

Jenn:    It seems like it came overnight.

Douglas: It’s turning fast, yeah. So what else have I not been able to fill in so far?

Jenn:    I think you’ve answered all my questions. And some I didn’t know I had, which are the best kind!


All the old maps I’ve seen call the body of water running through the marsh “Doctor’s Creek” (although the oldest don’t name it at all). The name changes to “Kitteredge Brook” (spelled Kitridge, Kittridge, Kitteridge, Kittredge, and Kitteredge on various maps) just north of the marsh. Anybody know when “Babson’s Creek” came into usage?

“Mount Desert Island,” Colby & Stuart, 1887 – the stream isn’t named, but you can see the Kittridge and Babson houses. (Kitteredge is spelled three different ways on this map!)

“Mount Desert Island,” Rand, 1893

“Mount Desert Island,” W.H.Sherman, 1911.

And in 2017, Google thinks it’s Kitteredge Brook.

Addenda, February 15, 2018:

Dr. Kendall Kittredge was the first doctor on MDI, moving here from Massachusetts in 1799. “Doctor’s Creek” and “Kittredge Brook” appear to refer to him. A little more info here:























3 thoughts on “Interview: Douglas McMullin at the Babson Creek preserve

  1. Pingback: Addenda – Dr. Kittredge – The Coast Walk Project

  2. Pingback: Interview: Jim Lynch at Bass Harbor Marsh – The Coast Walk Project

  3. Pingback: Field Trip with the Community School, Somesville – The Coast Walk Project

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.