- by Carol Standish
Part narrative, part stunning nature photography, Saving Maine - An Album of Conservation Success Stories (Down East Books, 96pp, $27) makes an elegant appeal and an eloquent case for land conservation. In ten short chapters and 95 photographs, author and widely published Maine photographer, Bill Silliker, Jr. describes the inspirations and the efforts of men and women, past and present, who have helped preserve the extraordinary beauty of place which is the unspoiled part of the State of Maine.
“In a world where progress is often defined by the number of houses we can jam onto an acre of land … enough of Maine exists as it once was that we can, even today, envision what this place must have been when all of it was untamed,” says Silliker in his introduction. On that note he proceeds to chronicle the visionary efforts of Governor Percival Baxter, beginning in 1919, to preserve the Katahdin region (today, Baxter State Park). After his proposal was rejected by the state legislature, Baxter used only his own money, buying acre by acre, parcel by parcel.
Over the course of 60 years land was accumulated—Baxter left a fund so that the effort could go on even after his death. In 1999, Governor Angus King described Baxter’s effort as “probably the most extraordinary example of an individual’s generosity in the history of this country.”
Other stories are examples of cooperation, coalition and pooling of resources. In the south coastal town of Saco, a small committee of concerned citizens successfully defeated a number of proposed developments (the largest of which called for 1000 dwelling units) along the upland edge of the Goosefare Marsh. Over many long years of effort, the Saco Citizens Coalition attracted the attention and eventual support of The Nature Conservancy, the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Maine Chapter of the Sierra Club. The 500 most crucial acres of the Goosefare Marsh was purchased for preservation in 1989.
A particularly heartwarming (and spectacularly beautiful) success was initiated by Jasper Cates, whose ancestors arrived in the Cutler area in 1785. Cates made his living as a lobsterman and frequently took pleasure in the land view from his boat, called the “Bold Coast”—the 35 mile stretch of headlands between Cutler and Lubec. Learning of development plans, he sought help in the person of Peggy Rockefeller. He took her out on his boat to show her what he meant when he said, “I’ve always thought that if there was someplace on Earth where God wanted to come down and view his handiwork, he’d be right there.” In 1988, the Maine Coast Heritage Trust purchased a large stretch of this awe-inspiring coast.
Since Percival Baxter’s time, the idea of land conservation has gained considerable momentum in the state. In 1987, Angus King, then a private citizen, was the official spokesman for a referendum campaign called Land for Maine’s Future Program which when broadly passed by Maine voters, created and funded an agency to purchase lands of statewide significance for recreation and conservation. In ten short years, the program accomplished the protection of 63,355 acres in 45 separate projects across the state.
Silliker’s book is not meant to be a rest-on-our-laurels or an how-to manual. You can find the painstaking details of these ten success stories elsewhere. The power of Silliker's argument lies in his images. For a person who loves Maine, the photographs elicit feelings of awe and pride of place. Perhaps some of Silliker’s readers will be inspired to act as Saco citizens did: “...to keep some of what is special about his/her part of the state from dissapearing forever.”