The trouble we’re having getting a bond issue on the ballot to support working waterfronts and farms should tell us it’s time to think differently about the future of Maine’s endangered coast.

Not that the coast itself is going extinct — it’ll be there a century from now regardless of what we do or don’t do this year. But what will it look like and will we have access to it?

The proposed bond issue would provide money to help fishermen, cooperatives and municipalities purchase access points along working waterfronts so Mainers could go on earning their livings there, as they have for four centuries. But politics have derailed the proposal more than once and could again. Will we get to vote on it in November? As of late July the answer wasn’t yet clear.

So why not think differently? Look around at Maine’s great public land success stories: Baxter State Park, Acadia National Park, even North Maine Woods. How did we gain access to these places? It wasn’t through bond issues or waiting for the Legislature to act. We have these places today because of the actions of philanthropists such as Percival Baxter, who gave us the park that bears his name, and John D. Rockefeller Jr., who was largely responsible for the creation of Acadia National Park.

North Maine Woods, which provides access to thousands of acres of private land in northern and western Maine, was the creation of a consortium of landowners. They may not have given us the land outright and some will always question this group’s fees and motives, but at least the public gets to use a lot of private land.

Private groups such as the Maine Coast Heritage Trust, The Nature Conservancy and local land trusts have done much to protect coastal land from unwise development, and much of this land is open to the public — again, without the benefit of action by the state. The Land for Maine’s Future program, using bond issue dollars in the past, has acquired significant coastal parcels for public use. Now it’s practically out of money.

Still, we’ve got a problem: as real estate prices soar and skew property taxes, it becomes impossible for most Mainers to own coastal property. We’re losing access to the very waterfront — the working waterfront — that provides the coast with its unique character.

What to do? Everything possible, of course. Pull out all the stops. Amend the state constitution to extend current-use taxation to areas of the working coast. Keep pushing for a bond issue but go further: encourage deep-pocketed foundations and individuals to take an interest in keeping the coast accessible. Think in terms of a massive public-private effort, financed outside of government, to buy land or development rights.

The very character of the coast is at stake. It’s time to think big.