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Recently, on a very hot summer day, I took a little break from the under-cooled structure that serves as Maine Audubon’s central office building. One of the nicest things about working at Gilsland Farm is that you can walk around in what is truly an oasis. You can leave your office and in less than a minute stroll along a vibrant salt marsh on the fringes of what, two generations ago, was one of Maine’s finest saltwater farms.
Here, Portland lawyer and Maine Audubon major benefactor David Moulton had his own personal redoubt. Moulton left nature pretty much as he found it, while also finding fertile soil and abundant space to cultivate one of the region’s best peony gardens. If you visit Gilsland Farm today, you can experience both aspects of Moulton’s legacy: wild land with flourishing native fauna and carefully laid beds of peonies that Maine Audubon’s members each year celebrate during Peony Day. It’s a place where native and cultivated landscapes are gracefully joined in a conserved space that is in the shadow of Maine’s urban hub.
Still, like so many other places where human settlement meets Maine’s gnarly coastline, Gilsland Farm is not without its contradictions and crosscurrents. What struck me that steamy morning was not so much what Maine Audubon has or has not done as a conservation landowner, but what was occurring across the water, on the far side of the Presumpscot Estuary, where the paved ribbon of Route 295 serves as a conduit for much of the summertime automobile traffic heading up and down the coast.
Summertime vegetation muffles much of the car and truck noise, but as I stood at the water’s edge, I couldn’t keep from counting the cars and trucks heading north and south, and I kept asking myself how many were local and how many were carrying passengers — tourists — who were here to experience something else, something that has to do with our most cherished images of Maine: its solitude, its gorgeous coast and interior reaches, and the amazing wildlife that clings to patches of a landscape we like to regard as unspoiled.
I put aside for a moment dark thoughts about the carbon footprint of the vehicular throng on Maine’s major roadways in the height of summer. I just asked myself, what would it take to induce all those people on the highway to stop driving for an hour or two and come visit Gilsland Farm? Beyond serving as a staunch advocate for wildlife — something accomplished mostly during the legislative session, when most of the summer people are back at home — what can Maine Audubon do to attract more people to its flagship location? On top of that, what can Maine Audubon do to engage them once they’re here? (My secret hope is that engaging many of them might help persuade some to think about the climate impacts of Maine’s summer automotive tourist procession.)
As we enter the final phase of our strategic planning, we are asking ourselves those questions. We’re mindful of the fact that ours is an incredibly strategic location for hosting all manner of wildlife education — from the chance to see wild turkeys and shore birds up close to the teachable experience of seeing renewable energy generation co-exist with outstanding natural beauty — those things and much more are here.
So, after reading this, if you are moved to suggest what you would like to see in the way of programming and facilities at Gilsland Farm, I hope you will send me your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. Tell me what’s important to you about Maine Audubon’s mission and work and what you think would make for a great visitor experience at Gilsland Farm.
Charles Gauvin started at Maine Audubon in 2014. Gauvin brings more than 25 years of experience in conservation leadership, much of it as the president and CEO of Trout Unlimited, the nation’s leading river and fish conservation organization.Gauvin most recently served as Chief Development Officer at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, DC. He collaborated with Carnegie scholars worldwide to develop program strategies and support in the United States, Europe, Russia, the Middle East, Asia and South Asia.