In the midst of the Mt. Agamenticus region lies the 151-acre Highland Farm. The land is at the southern end of the 3,600-acre area designated by the Beginning with Habitat program of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (IF&W) as the Mt. Agamenticus Focus Area of Ecological Significance. Highland Farm is the keystone property that joins Mt. Agamenticus to the York River and is linked to over 7,000 protected acres of forest leading to Mt. Agamenticus and beyond.
Highland Farm provides an array of wildlife habitat including oak-pine and oak-hickory forests and rocky outcroppings. There are six wetlands on the property and 17 vernal pools. These acres are preferred habitat for endangered or threatened Eastern box, Blanding’s and spotted turtles and the black racer snake. Highland Farm also includes 30 acres of early successional thickets on an overgrown golf course. These acres are of critical importance to New England cottontail, a state endangered specie and Maine’s only native rabbit.
A wetland system drains from Highland Farm into Boulter Pond, the drinking water supply for the Town of Kittery and parts of York and Eliot. The pond is also one of only four sites in Maine where the swamp darter, a state-threatened, small freshwater fish, has been documented. The endangered and globally rare ringed boghaunter dragonfly has also been found here
Highland Farm provides full public access for area citizens and for the many visitors who travel to the area for recreation. Stewardship funds will be used to build and maintain trails, a small parking area and picnic sites with sweeping views of the York River marshes. Trails will avoid sensitive areas and link into the 40 miles of existing trails on and around Mt. Agamenticus. Highland Farm will serve as a starting or finishing point for a new, daylong hike from South Berwick. The York Land Trust is working with the National Park Service, Rivers and Trails Program to plan accessible trails on both Highland Farm and riverfront conserved land.
Education for all ages
Through a partnership with the Kittery Trading Post, easement lands along the river are used for school ecology programs. Highland Farm property will expand these opportunities so students can study upland areas as well as an estuarine system.
But all this richness was under threat. Highland Farm had been proposed for residential development twice in the last 20 years. The first development failed and the recent downturn in real estate convinced the landowner to consider conservation. Until it was conserved, Twelve house lots and building permits were available and another 25 lots were under consideration by the York Planning Board.
The total project budget was $3.1 million.
York Land Trust owns approximately 91 acres and Kittery Water District 60 acres. The Town of York holds an conservation easement on the entire property.