With every new year comes an opportunity to both reflect on where we have been and look to the future. For Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust (BTLT), the theme of 2023, as conveyed in our annual report, was ‘branching out’ as we expanded our educational work by merging with Cathance River Education Alliance (CREA). Our Board, staff, and membership are thrilled by this momentous step!
BTLT and CREA have been partners since the early 2000s, when BTLT was granted a conservation easement at Cathance River Nature Preserve and CREA was founded to use the Preserve as a place to educate people about ecology and the natural world. In the intervening years, the organizations have collaborated in myriad ways, and the merger represents the culmination of our longstanding partnership and complementary missions. In the words of BTLT board member and former CREA Board President Ellen Bennett, “We started this process thinking about administrative efficiencies, but came to realize we could do more for the community — and do it better — as one organization.”
Our staff and board have been busy over the past year with the business of “merging well,” attending to the structure and management of our newly unified organization and creating a culture and mission that reflects the values of both BTLT and CREA.
At the same time, we’ve been hard at work pursuing our mission of conserving land, maintaining local trails for people to enjoy, supporting local agriculture, building climate adaptation and resilience, and providing opportunities to learn about and engage with the natural world.
Highlights of our land conservation and stewardship work over the past year include:
- Conserving land in Pennellville, further protecting this historic landscape and water quality in Middle Bay;
- Conserving 22 acres with frontage on the Muddy and Androscoggin Rivers—protecting water quality in Merrymeeting Bay and riparian habitat, and enabling marsh migration as sea level rises;
- Conserving 25 acres at the head of Middle Bay—protecting forested land, water quality in the bay, and and enabling marsh migration;
- Establishing permanent protection of half a mile of the Cathance River Trail between Head of Tide Park and the Preserve—ensuring this remote-feeling hiking trail will always be accessible to the public;
- Building a 40-ft bridge reconnecting Cathance River Nature Preserve with Head of Tide Park;
- Securing funding from Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund to support efforts to combat the invasive and destructive hemlock woolly adelgid on two of BTLT’s conserved properties.
CREA programs thrived this year, with CREA Camp full to bursting… again. Hundreds of children spent summer days exploring the forest, hunting for bugs and salamanders, playing in the river, getting dirty, and learning to respect the natural world that surrounds them.
CREA educators captivated hundreds of local schoolchildren with hands-on outdoor learning at the CREA Ecology Center and Preserve this fall. To build upon these field trips, CREA educators have been working with K-5 teachers in Brunswick to map out new units that teach science through engaging, hands-on lessons. The learning units activate students’ innate curiosity and teach them how to “think like a scientist,” exploring, discovering, making observations, collecting data, and connecting with their local landscapes. When a student proclaims at the end of the field trip, “This didn’t even feel like school!” we call that a win! CREA educators supported K-5 teachers in SAD 75 in a similar project in recent years.
We also ‘branched out’ this year through a change in leadership. After 15 years at the helm, former executive director Angela Twitchell left BTLT in September for a job as Land Trust Program Director at Maine Coast Heritage Trust. We are profoundly grateful for all Angela has done to build strong community connections and the robust organizational foundation that underlies all our work.
Carrying on that work is Steve Walker, who assumed the position of executive director in mid-December. Steve has held various conservation and land protection positions throughout his career, including Endangered Species Coordinator at the state Department of Inland Fish and Wildlife, Land Protection Coordinator for the Maine Coast Heritage Trust, and Municipal Environmental Planner in Brunswick. He has hit the ground running at BTLT, and we are excited about our future under his leadership.
What are we looking forward to in 2024?
- We have more land conservation projects in the pipeline, moving us toward state and regional goals of conserving 30% of the land base.
- We are exploring options for expansion of CREA programs with the goal of engaging more people, especially youth, across a wider variety of landscapes.
- We plan to continue to foster more education and engagement around agriculture, through expanding our wildly successful Power of Produce program connecting youth with local food at our Saturday Farmers’ Market at Crystal Spring Farm, continuing to support access to and programming in the Tom Settlemire Community Garden, and more.
The opportunities seem boundless thanks to the unwavering support of the community for our work. We are profoundly grateful to our business and community members and volunteers for making the successes of 2023 possible. Your financial support broke all records this year, and we appreciate your vote of confidence in our merged organization. We look forward to 2024 and the opportunities it brings to conserve special places and connect the people of our region to them. Happy New Year!