Kennebunk Plains Preserve

Urban sprawl is the biggest threat to wildlife and nativ habitats in Main, even with  more  than  440,000  acres  (17,000  hectares)  of  land  already  protected.  As  long  as commercial  and  residential  development  can  be  controlled,  the  native  habitats  will  be preserved. Come  here  in  late  summer  and  you  can’t miss it: a wide expanse of grassland spangled  with  vivid  purple  wildflowers.  It’s known  as  the  northern  blazing  star,  and you won’t find it anywhere else in Maine—or hardly anywhere else in the world. This one  135-acre  (56-hectare)  parcel  of  land holds a virtual monopoly on northern blazing  star,  with  an  estimated  90%  of  the world’s specimens.

Kennebunk  Plains  is  an  oddball  landscape  for  New  England  anyway.  Such  a classic prairie habitat hardly ever exists so close  to  the  ocean—many  of  the  plants that  thrive  here,  such  as  little  bluestem grass, are common out on the Great Plains but  unknown  in  Maine.  And  though  this protected  parcel  is  open  to  the  public  to walk around in, you’ll notice that the grasslands  extend  well  beyond  the  preserve, occupying  some  2,000  acres  (800  hectares)  of  coastal  plain  with  their  deep deposits of sand, not washed up from the sea but dumped by ancient glaciers.

Working with the Maine Department of Inland  Fisheries  and  Wildlife,  the  Nature Conservancy   deliberately   starts   small fires—known  as  “prescribed  burns”—on the preserve at periodic intervals, to scale back  outlying  patches  of  pitch  pine  and scrub oak forest. It’s an ancient land-management   strategy,   the   same   used   by Native  Americans  when  they  raised  blueberries on this plain. By preserving the old ways, the Kennebunk Plains’ 21st-century stewards  hope  to  preserve  this  last  remnant of what once was a common ecosystem.

Several  rare  or  endangered  bird  species have found a haven on these unusual grasslands,  including  grasshopper  sparrows,  upland  sandpipers,  vesper  sparrows, and horned larks. Black racer snakes thrive  here  too,  one  of  only  two  known populations in the state. That’s what happens when you get an oddball landscape—it  enables  entirely  different  species  to thrive  where  they  otherwise  wouldn’t. That’s what diversity’s all about.