New Preserve in Southern Maine to Benefit Bunnies, People

Residents of Wells, North Berwick, and southern Maine will enjoy a new nature preserve in 2012. After more than a decade of community efforts, the Town of Wells bought the former Granite State lands from Unitil Corporation in December 2011. Great Works Regional Land Trust will hold a conservation easement on the 288-acre property, which was renamed Perkinstown Commons.

“It was a team effort between the Land Trust, the Town of Wells Conservation Commission, Unitil, Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve, and other dedicated partners,” says Tin Smith, stewardship coordinator for the Wells Reserve and a Great Works’ board member. “More than 112 donors from 19 different communities, along with granting agencies, made this success possible.”

One organization, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, gave $75,000 toward creating habitat for New England cottontails. Soon, conservationists will get their heads together and develop a management plan for up to 75 acres on the preserve. Says Kelly Boland, New England Cottontail Restoration Coordinator for Maine, “The area includes some regrowing forest, and it’s along a powerline with existing rabbit habitat. A small population of cottontails lives close by, so habitat created on Perkinstown Commons could yield quick benefits for bunnies.”

According to Kate O’Brien, a wildlife biologist at nearby Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, habitat created for New England cottontails will also help other wild species whose populations have dwindled in recent decades, including the blue-winged warbler, Eastern towhee, and American woodcock.

According to Unitil media relations manager Alec O’Meara, the company received the tract as part of its purchase of Northern Utilities in 2008.“We are thrilled to see the property end up in the hands of the Town of Wells and Great Works, where it will remain open and available for recreational use,” O’Meara said.

Perkinstown Commons is located off the Perry Oliver and Quarry roads in western Wells, with a few acres in North Berwick. It is crossed on its southern boundary by a leg of the Eastern Trail, a scenic pathway that someday will stretch from Kittery to South Portland.

Visitors to Perkinstown Commons will be drawn by the preserve’s woodlands, wetlands, shrub swamps, and vernal pools, and by the wild creatures that use those natural features. The preserve will be improved with public trails and will remain open for educational outings and recreation, including cross-country skiing, hunting, and fishing.

“Ultimately, the area should offer a mosaic of habitat that will be extremely important to New England cottontails,” says Boland. “We can’t wait to get started on management that will benefit both people and rabbits.”