The deputy director of the state Bureau of Parks and Lands, Ralph Knoll, confirmed in April that the bureau has been seeking to acquire the Fox Islands located just off the coast of Phippsburg. Knoll reported that the two islands, totaling approximately six acres, have been a major attraction for visitors at Popham Beach State Park since the park opened more than 30 years ago. Knoll added that Popham Beach State Park has become the most visited state park in Maine.
Bureau statistics reveal that more than 180,000 people visited the park in 2004. “There has been a move on the part of the state to acquire the [Fox] islands,” said Knoll. “We haven’t purchased the islands, yet, but I’m optimistic. Another entity is negotiating on the state’s behalf.”
Chris Fichtel of the Maine Coast Heritage Trust said in April that he had been negotiating with the owner (who lives in Connecticut) but that no agreement had been reached yet. He said that he hoped the negotiations could be finalized.
“It would be great to have the islands as part of the park,” said Fichtel. “They’re a high priority for the state to acquire because of the high visibility of the islands and because of how much the larger island is used by the public. You can look out at Seguin Island and back at the park and the beach. The smaller island is important for the birds that nest out there. Seagulls nest there and it’s possible that others may have nested out there.”
Fichtel said that the present and past owners have graciously allowed public access to the islands. However, when the opportunity arose, it was important for the state to try to secure the islands because future owners may not be as generous. “We’re still in the negotiation process,” said Fichtel. “I’m waiting to hear from the owner.”
Both Knoll and Fichtel said that the islands are limited in terms of the type of construction that could take place there.
“During high tides and storms, there have been reports that waves can wash over the islands,” said Fichtel. He added that unlike most islands, the Fox Islands afford little privacy because of their location directly across from the heavily visited Popham Beach State Park and because they can be reached easily by foot at low tide. However, he still thought that the property would be an asset to the state park because of its value to the public for recreational purposes. He explained that park visitors have enjoyed the islands not only for the scenic views but also for bird watching.
“Because of how popular the big island is for public use, it’s certainly a natural for inclusion in the park,” said Fichtel.
Popham Beach State Park currently consists of 529 acres of land. It has a long sandy beach and is located just a few miles from Fort Popham, a partially built, semi-circular granite fort constructed during the Civil War. Also located nearby are Fort Baldwin, Morse Mountain Preserve, Pond Island Lighthouse, and Seguin Island Lighthouse, which has the highest elevation above sea level of any lighthouse on Maine’s coast.
According to manager Brian Murray, the park is officially open from April 15 until the end of October, with the heaviest usage occurring in June, July and August. He commented that many tourists are attracted to the park because of the “gorgeous sandy beach.” Murray confirmed that a number of park guests have also visited the Fox Islands during low tide. He said that he continues to caution those visitors to beware of the changing tides to avoid becoming stranded on the islands. “Visitors should stay aware of the water on the sandbar,” said Murray. “Visitors should be off the islands before the sandbar is completely covered with water.