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Restoration, Resilience, and Gratitude on Little Chebeague Island

Charlie Cobb, Active Transportation Fellow, expresses gratitude for the service day that the fellows spent on Little Chebeague Island with the Maine Island Trail Association (MITA).


On Thursday morning we met at the East End Beach boat launch in Portland for a day of service with the Maine Island Trail Association (MITA) on Little Chebeague Island. Founded in 1988, MITA maintains the Maine Island Trail, a 375-mile water trail connecting over 250 island and mainland sites for overnight camping and day use up and down the coast of Maine. At the boat launch we met Lou, the MITA Steward for Little Chebeague Island, and Chris, MITA’s Regional Trail Stewardship Manager, who promptly loaded us onto two of MITA’s motorboats and brought us out to Little Chebeague.


Lou, piloting us away from the East End Beach


Upon arrival, Lou and Chris gave us an overview of the work we’d be doing (trail work!), and told us a little about the history of the island. Little Chebeague Island was used seasonally by the Wabanaki tribes, who would canoe out for the summer to fish and gather shellfish then return to the mainland for the winter. The island was colonized by white settlers around the late 1700s to early 1800s. By the mid-1800s, seasonal tourism had taken off in Maine, and Little Chebeague grew into a tourist destination, complete with a hotel and a colony of summer cottages. In 1943, it was bought by the US government to serve as a troop base for WWII naval soldiers preparing to go overseas. After the war was over, the island fell into a state of disrepair. Invasive asiatic bittersweet, foolishly introduced by the military, spread across the island, choking out native plants and trees, and making the interior of the island nearly impenetrable. The cottages, hotels, and other buildings of the early and mid-1900s began to crumble. In 1973, ownership was transferred to the State of Maine, who opened the island up as a public recreation site. With the help of MITA, and MITA’s strong volunteer network, trails have been cut on the island, habitat restoration efforts are underway, and Little Chebeague has once again become a popular summer destination.


Remnants of summer cottages on Little Chebeague


Despite this recent renaissance, invasive plants still have a strong hold on Little Chebeague Island, and the trail maintenance and restoration efforts of volunteers are critical in keeping the island open for recreation. Today, we would be a part of these restoration efforts. We donned our work gloves, grabbed loppers, hedge trimmers, and saws, and headed out to widen the trails and remove some invasive plants. It was great to have all of us working together as a corps, the weather was pretty much perfect, and we quickly realized that despite all the bittersweet, Little Chebeague remains a unique and beautiful island. After about five hours of trail work (which went by all too quickly), it was time to head back to Portland.


The Resilience Corps in action. Doing our best to trim back the bittersweet


Sitting on the boat, watching Little Chebeague fade into the distance, I couldn’t help but feel grateful. Grateful that these islands are free and open for anyone to enjoy. Grateful to MITA and all the volunteers who work to maintain these islands. And grateful for nature’s inherent reciprocity– grateful that as we worked to make the island more resilient to human use and invasive plants, the island took us out of our offices, off our phones, and away from the stresses of daily life. Perhaps it was not us that made the island more resilient, but the island that made us more resilient. And perhaps that is the whole point.


View from Little Chebeague out to Cousins Island.


Sources:

https://www.chebeague.org/2010-2011/2010%2007%2002%20little%20chebeague%20.pdf

https://www.chebeaguehistory.com/our-island-heritage


About Charlie



Charlie grew up in the small, rural town of Westford, Vermont. As a kid, Charlie spent lots of time hiking, cross-country skiing, and exploring Vermont’s Green Mountains, leading him to develop a lifelong commitment to conservation. This commitment led him to attend Colby College in Waterville, Maine, where he graduated in 2020 with a BA in Environmental Science. After graduation, Charlie worked a variety of jobs from election campaigning to youth ski coaching, to hardware store retail. Most recently, Charlie worked in an AmeriCorps position, constructing cattle fences and monitoring fish health for the Federal Bureau of Reclamation in Cascade, Idaho. In his free time, Charlie enjoys cross-country skiing, hiking, mountain biking, running, and kayaking. He also likes to read books, watch Netflix, and spend time with friends. As a Resilience Corps member, Charlie is excited to learn about and explore the Greater Portland area and help create a more viable and accessible active (non-car) transportation system.

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