The wild and rugged Cutler Coast not far from Fairy Head. Photo by Carey Kish
The spectacular Cutler Coast looking toward Fairy Head and beyond to Little River Light. Photo by Carey Kish
The incredible Cutler Coast is the only place in Maine where you can backpack right along the ocean. Photo by Carey Kish
Tent camp amid the spruce woods at Long Point Cove. Photo by Carey Kish
Late afternoon at lovely Long Point Cove. Photo by Carey Kish
Heading back along the Coastal Trail at Cutler Coast with bags of trash. Photo by Carey Kish
Carl Eppich and Rupi Gill both of South Portland enjoy the stunning scenery at Cutler Coast. Photo by Carey Kish
Another look at the spectacular but fragile Cutler Coast. Photo by Carey Kish
A group of Carey's friends enjoy the late afternoon sun at the fragile but oh so beautiful Cutler Coast. Photo by Carey Kish
Bruce Hyman of Portland dumps water on an abandoned campfire left smoldering. Photo by Carey Kish
Amid the 12,234 acres of the Cutler Coast Public Lands in Cutler are 4.5 miles of precipitous headlands interspersed with pocket coves and cobble beaches – a cool, windswept environment that overlooks the Bay of Fundy.
Take a walk along this wild and rugged stretch of the Downeast coast, complete with maritime spruce and fir forests, grassy meadows and upland peat bogs, and it will be abundantly clear why it’s also known as the Bold Coast.
Cutler Coast has been featured in countless outdoor and travel magazines, and most every major U.S. newspaper over the years, understandably so, given that it’s an incredible chunk of real estate, and the only place in Maine where you can go backpacking right along the ocean. But after what I observed on a backpack trip there last November, I’m wondering if the place is suffering from too much notoriety.
“Cutler Coast is a spectacular piece of property,” said my good friend Steve Spencer when we spoke recently. A former outdoor recreation planner with the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands, Spencer played a key role during the state’s acquisition of the prized Cutler land. Further, it was Spencer who designed its 10-mile network of hiking trails and supervised their construction.
Knowing Spencer’s deep connection to Cutler, I wanted to share my concerns about the downright awful behavior I’d seen on my Veterans Day weekend trek. From renegade firepits and trash, to poor privy practices and a campfire abandoned and smoldering, I was upset beyond measure, and it gnawed at me all winter long (to be sure, I’d earlier reported the misdeeds to MBPL officials to get it on record). The state of Maine first acquired land at Cutler Coast in 1989, and 9,500 acres were added in 1997 when The Conservation Fund/Richard King Mellon Foundation and the Maine Coast Heritage Trust donated much of the land north of Route 191. MBPL later bought 570 acres, bringing the unit to its current size.
“Cutler Coast appeared destined to end up as a subdivision, a dozen McMansions maybe,” Spencer told me, an outcome that would have been an enormous shame. But I’ve got to ask, with it showing obvious signs of overuse and misuse some 30 years after it was protected, are we loving the place to death?
“It’s a fragile ecosystem,” Spencer noted, “with thin, organic soils and steep grades.” That’s why Spencer and his crew built untold lengths of bog bridging, and numerous ladders and staircases to keep hikers on the path. Small campsites were tucked into the woods to preserve the shoreline.
On a half-dozen or so trips to Cutler Coast, I’ve kicked apart my share of firepits (fires have always been prohibited) and have packed out many big Ziplock bags of trash. I’ve tamped down privy cones and cleaned up nearby messes topped with toilet paper streamers. Unfortunately this latest trip was much the same, and then some.
Beyond our Long Point Cove camp on the second morning, my companions and I sallied forth, buoyed by the solitude and stunning scenery. But at the second-to- last campsite before Fairy Head, our spirits sank upon encountering a smoking firepit and no one around. We emptied all our water bottles and bags, and with some digging and stirring, put it out.
Incredibly, smoke appeared again, now several feet downslope from the pit. Digging deep into the peat soil, we discovered red embers six inches below the surface and got to work again. With a bucket brigade to the tidepools, two hours of sweat and toil, and more than a few harsh words, we extinguished the 25-square foot area of smudge. Five men stood around it dumbfounded, thinking how the whole darn place could have gone up in flames.
Bottom line: Visit the Cutler Coast, yes, but please be respectful of this amazing gift. Be gentle, act thoughtfully, go quietly, leave not a trace of your passing. Clean up after others, and kindly educate if you observe people engaged in inappropriate practices. Consider day hiking instead of camping overnight to lessen your impact. If you do tent, don’t even think about kindling a fire. Together, with each of us as responsible stewards of the land, perhaps we can make a difference, at Cutler Coast and elsewhere.