"It'll look like a park," says Arthur Smallidge, waving his arms at the wide open expanse of what will soon become Red Point Park, located off County Road in Lubec. Once used as a campground, then later closed off to public access, the 77.5-acre peninsula jutting into Lubec's South Bay is being converted into a public recreation area, courtesy of philanthropist Gilbert Butler.
Smallidge, a long‑term Mainer now living in Trenton, is Butler's point man on the project and has worked for Butler for 25 years. "His goal," says Smallidge, "is to preserve as much open shoreline as possible." The area is currently closed off to public access, as it is an active construction site with heavy equipment at work.
The plan for Red Point, according to Smallidge, is to complete renovations during 2018, hopefully allowing the public an informal opportunity to visit. Work, which includes the installation of three maintenance and staff buildings, is expected to be completed in time for full opening in 2019.
While motorized vehicles will not be permitted, hikers, bicyclists, kayakers, strollers and cross‑country skiers, along with hunters and clammers, will be encouraged. Much of the area will be wheelchair accessible. "There won't ever be any fees," Smallidge says, except for special events such as weddings or other large gatherings. "Mr. Butler has set up a fund to maintain the park into the future," he says.
Butler is the founder of Butler Capital Corporation, headquartered in New York City. When asked whether he was associated with the large yacht, complete with helicopter, anchored in Johnson Bay earlier this summer, Smallidge replied, "That wasn't him. That's not his style."
A love for Cobscook Bay
This is not Butler's only project. An avid kayaker, he "fell in love with Cobscook Bay" years ago and became determined to create a public recreation area. A similar project is under way in Millinocket, as well as other communities including in South Carolina, all funded by the Butler Conservation Fund from Great Neck, N.Y. The fund also owns property on Lead Mine Road in Lubec, directly across the narrow channel from Red Point.
"There are three million visitors each year to Acadia," says Smallidge. "If we can attract one percent of those to come here, it'll be a big boost for business."
The main road leading to the point has not been changed, although it has been graded and the surface improved in some places. "Only permeable surfaces are used," Smallidge says. Much of the preliminary work, he explains, involved removing the long‑unused swimming pool and clearing "a lot of junk," as well as extensive mowing. Utilities have been moved underground and a water line extended to the northern end of the road. The grounds will be open during daytime only and camping will not be allowed.
Tax issues considered
At the time of the 2016 tax levy, the land was owned by Rebecca Megan Willson, and the annual taxes were $9,621, with the land assessed at $324,831. Taxes for 2017 decreased to $7,689 despite an increased mill rate, according to Assessor's Agent Jim Clark, due to the removal of structures. The owner is now Maine Paddling and Cycling Trails.
Maine Open Space Tax Law, according to Clark, allows land to be granted special classifications for open space preservation, leading to tax reductions of as much as 95%, depending on public access and other qualifications.
Clark declines to comment on future tax levies on the Red Point property, as Butler has yet to apply for any classification. Clark also observes that Maine law dictates that any single classified development with a value exceeding 3% of the total value for the town requires voter approval. The total valuation for the Town of Lubec, according to 2015 data provided by Maine Revenue Services, is better than $167 million, placing the town as the fifth most valuable in Washington County, behind Calais, Baileyville, Milbridge and Steuben.
During the November 15 meeting of the Lubec Select Board, it was announced that a group is being convened in Augusta on December 1 by the Maine Legislature's Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee to look at the effect of conserved land and that Lubec is one of the towns invited to send a representative. Town Administrator Renee Gray stated that Clark will be attending that meeting on behalf of the town.