It’s official: The island of Jordan’s Delight has gone back to the birds.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last month added Jordan’s Delight, a rocky outcropping in Narraguagus Bay, to the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge.
The 30-acre island joins a list of nearly 50 other islands that are part of a refuge complex stretching along 150 miles of the Maine coast.
What makes the history of Jordan’s Delight unique is that less than a decade ago the island had been written off by some as another loss to development.
Back in the 1990s, the statewide conservation group Maine Coast Heritage Trust tried to purchase Jordan’s Delight but couldn’t raise the money. Instead, a man from outside of Maine stepped in and bought the island, which is located off the coast of Milbridge in southern Washington County.
The man built a small “boathouse” and then proceeded to construct a two-story, 3,000-square-foot house atop the island’s massive cliffs. But before completing the interior of the house, the man suddenly left and put the island on the market for $1.6 million.
Again, Maine Coast Heritage Trust could not afford to purchase the island. But an anonymous donor from Massachusetts bought Jordan’s Delight for around $1 million and donated 27 of the 30 acres to the conservation group.
Maine Coast Heritage Trust then hired a contractor to remove the nearly finished house and return the land to the birds. Last month, the organization transferred ownership of the island to the USFWS for $70,000, which covered the cost of removing the building and restoring the land.
David MacDonald, director of land protection for the Topsham-based trust, said his organization has removed old shacks or sheds from land before. But he said de-constructing a large house was “very unusual” for his group.
Not everyone thought the island could be saved after the house was built, MacDonald said.
“Many folks thought, `Well, the damage has been done,’ but others thought this is a chance to bring the island back to its natural setting,” MacDonald said.
The family of the anonymous donor will retain access to the smaller house and three surrounding acres but, under the terms of a conservation easement, are allowed to use the property only when the seabirds are not nesting.
Black guillemots, black-backed and herring gulls, double-crested cormorants, common eiders and Leach’s storm petrel all nest on Jordan’s Delight.
“The [Fish and Wildlife] Service would not have had the opportunity to protect this important seabird nesting area without the generosity of a conservation-minded family and the Maine Coast Heritage Trust’s dedicated stewardship of our coastal resources,” Charlie Blair, manager of the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge, said in a statement.
The Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge includes the Petit Manan, Cross Island, Franklin Island, Seal Island, and Pond Island wildlife refuges.