Drive fifteen minutes south of French’s Point and you’ll find Sears Island, one of the prettiest and most controversial nature preserves in Maine.
Sears Island, located off the coast of Searsport, is the largest undeveloped, uninhabited island accessible by a causeway on the Eastern seaboard. About 600 of the island’s 940 acres are protected by a 2009 state conservation easement that prohibits any development. The volunteer Friends of Sears Island and the nonprofit Maine Coast Heritage Trust preserve the island’s natural ecosystem, manage its trails, and host educational tours of the area.
You can drive out to the end of the causeway but not on the island, as it is restricted to walkers, hikers, and cyclists. Visitors can meander around the island on any one of the numerous trails (six are maintained), enjoy the gorgeous views of the bay, or lounge on any one of the beaches bordering the island.
Besides its family-friendly outdoor appeal, Sears Island is rich in history. The Wabanaki tribe called it Wassumkeag or “shining beach” and lived, hunted, and fished on it. Some of the area’s earliest European settlers also lived and labored on the island. Since the turn of the last century, environmentalists and recreationalists have been fighting industry to protect the island from development. The current conservation easement is the latest settlement in the ongoing back and forth, and though it should protect the land well into the future, it has been challenged in court.
The debate about how much to industrialize this area continues, which makes Sears Island not only a great example of Maine’s coastal ecosystem but also of its land-use challenges.