FALMOUTH — The Friends of Clapboard Island is not your typical land conservation group. They don’t have a board of directors, no staff, no office. On the other hand, the group’s name suits them.

They are definitely a group of friends, and they love this little island located a mile off the coast of Falmouth.

When the Friends of Clapboard Island hold their second annual “Bagels on the Beach” gathering in two weeks, they will appear as organized as any nonprofit working to raise awareness of this Falmouth island preserve. Then this small group of island-loving sailors will disband once again.

“We pretty much dissolved after the purchase and sales agreement was signed,” said David Gooch, one of three friends who got together to save the island. “But we still want to support the island, to be docents, to help with cleanup, to keep people from wandering onto the private property.”

Two years ago when Gooch, Susan Gilpin and Hugh Smith decided while sailing around Falmouth to try to buy a 15-acre parcel on the island when it came up for sale, the Friends of Clapboard formed and approached Maine Coast Heritage Trust to help. The island had not had public access for 100 years.

Last August the Trust completed the purchase of the Clapboard East Preserve on the island for $1.4 million, and the Friends disbanded. Their work was done.


“Before we formed, we might have called ourselves a literary book club. We met during the winter to read books about islands. That was the genesis,” Gooch said. “I suppose if we found another cause, the Friends group would work on something else.”

For now, once a year the three founding members of this ad-hoc conservation group roll out their Friends of Clapboard Island signs for their annual island tour, when they ferry visitors out to the island to experience its wild woods and ocean views.

“This is the first year Clapboard East will be accessible all summer, so we are excited,” Gilpin said.

The Clapboard East Preserve is one of 65 island preserves the Maine Coast Heritage Trust owns and manages. Trust communications director Richard Knox said not all are suitable for heavy traffic and visitors because of sensitive natural resources or other issues. Clapboard East is one such example because there are landowners at both ends.

When the Trust bought the 15-acre preserve, it came with a private house that the Trust sold for $645,000 to an owner willing to live next to a land preserve. The trust works hard through signs and fences on the Clapboard East Preserve to prevent the public from entering the private property.

“We hope it’s a beloved local destination. But we think about it like a neighborhood park. We wouldn’t want hordes of people out there,” said Amanda Devine, the Trust’s island steward. “That would take away from the feel of it. Our islands are wild. We don’t do infrastructure. We tend not to have moorings. Visitors (in kayaks) can beach anchor or row ashore.”


Devine said for a kayaker paddling past the preserve’s empty beaches, Clapboard Island is enchanting. The East Preserve covers much of the northeastern end. It has just a few miles of trails but access to five pebble beaches, two with sunset views.

An osprey nest sits above the beach at the western shore’s main landing. There the resident pair make known their disapproval of too much activity.

“In 50 or 25 years when islands are more guarded, these types of places will be lost,” Gooch said. “I have one of the ‘No Trespassing’ signs that used to be on the island in the entryway in my house. And I also have our Friends of Clapboard Island sign.”

The Trust is careful to protect the wild, untrodden nature of this island preserve. They’re also glad these three friends approached them.

“If we had more of those types of people rallying around preserves, it would be a good thing,” Knox said. “They will bring people to a place they care about, and spread the good word, and show a respect and care for the place. We get approached by concerned citizens or neighbors who love a place. Typically they are not as organized as this group was. They were very passionate and very persistent. Their enthusiasm was infectious.”


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