PHIPPSBURG — Phippsburg Land Trust is close to its goal to protect the waterways around Morse River and Spirit Pond.

The land trust is seeking to acquire two separate parcels totaling 46 acres – one 27-acre property near a section of the Morse River wetlands and another 19.6-acre property near a fresh water marsh that supplies Spirit Pond. The cost for purchase, stewardship, and preservation will total about $225,000.

Fortunately, the land trust is within $50,000 of its goal. However, to receive a grant from the Merrymeeting Bay Trust, it must raise the entire $200,000 by Dec. 31.

Efforts to acquire the land started a few years back when Dan Dowd, chair of the conservation committee for Phippsburg Land Trust learned the smaller property was available. “I became aware that some important land was possibly available, and that the landowner was interested in preserving it,” he said.

The smaller property is adjacent to the intersection of the southern end of Parker Head Road and Route 209. It contains some valuable wetland areas that feed directly into Spirit Pond, which is tidal, and flows into the Morse River and a large section of salt marsh.

The second piece of land has similar conservation importance. It has roughly 400 feet of frontage along the northern end of the Morse River, and has been identified by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife as a prime wintering area for deer.

The motivation behind the acquisitions, said Phippsburg Land Trust President Brenda Cummings, is to create an area of protection around the Morse River and Spirit Pond.

“It is the main freshwater input into the whole Morse River estuary,” said Cummings of the larger of the two properties. “That is really the only significant freshwater input, the wetlands across the street.”

Small waterways like this one are the main focus of some of Phippsburg Land Trust’s conservation efforts. Coastal Journal file photo

The land trust’s long-term goals have always involved the protection of lands surrounding the many waterways on the Phippsburg peninsula. Beginning in the 1980s, it has steadily either acquired or gained easements for several areas of both fresh and salt water, ensuring they will remain undeveloped and unpolluted.

Given Phippsburg’s geography and location, protecting waterways is key to the community. “As you can say in a more impolite way, ‘poop flows downstream,’” said Cummings. “Phippsburg knows that very well; we are at the end of the estuary.”

Bowdoin Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies John Lichter has worked on many projects examining Merrymeeting Bay and other area waters, and emphasizes the importance of estuaries as habitat for young fish.

“The salt marshes have a lot of different ecological benefits,” he said. Those include areas that store carbon, and places where wildlife grow.

While Morse River is obviously not as large as the Kennebec, those smaller fisheries play an important part in the overall health of the area. Historically, cod, pollock, and haddock fisheries were possible because of the abundance of other species coming out of rivers, said Lichter.

“These fisheries were there because of the rivers,” he said. “That’s very likely the reason there were so many cod out there when the Europeans first began fishing in these waters.”

While damming and pollution decimated the populations of anadromous fish like alewives, shad, and others from the Kennebec and Androscoggin, small rivers like the Morse River played a part in keeping those species going.

“I think it’s possible that a lot of these little streams held relic populations,” said Lichter. “These, historically, might have been really important just to keep the populations going.”

Fisheries aren’t the only reason to preserve the properties, however. They also offer fantastic habitats for birds, and some interesting spots for recreation. The large portion of land abuts the Bates College Shortridge Center, and “contains a significant amount of pitch pine forest, as well as unique geologic features,” said Dowd.

Those features include a series of rocky ridges that rise and run north to south along the property. Some spots include cliffs of 30 or 40 feet, rising to plateaus of pitch pine forest. Those areas often offer fantastic views of the surrounding forest, as well as habitats for lichens and other rare flora.

Once its fund-raising goal is reached, the land trust can start putting in trails and infrastructure so residents and visitors can enjoy the unique properties.

For more information on the land trust’s efforts, visit www.phippsburglandtrust.org, call 389-2689, or mail Phippsburg Land Trust, P.O. Box 123, Phippsburg, ME, 04562.