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The Origins and History of the Maine Coast Heritage Trust – Using Government to Control Other People's Private Property

The Maine Coast Heritage Trust (MCHT) is one of the wealthiest and most politically powerful land trusts in Maine. It collaborates with state and Federal government agencies for land use prohibitions and acquisition. It funds and directs satellite trusts claiming to represent local people. It uses its financial and political clout to preserve land for the well–connected wealthy in southern Maine, while in rural Washington County in the northeast it has arrogantly targeted entire regions of private property that it wants to take over and be controlled by government.

MCHT was incorporated as a private acquisition arm of Acadia National Park in 1970 to circumvent the law allowing park acquisition only by donation or exchange. It was organized and initially run by a park official, hired and funded by the Rockefellers, to buy land and transfer it to the park.

A lauditory 1991 Downeast Magazine cover story revealed that in the late 1960s Peggy Rockefeller and Tom Cabot wanted to stop other people from living along the shore – Peggy and her husband David Rockefeller, who had their own summer estate on an island, noticed that new homes were elsewhere becoming visible from their yacht; they didn't like it.

Upon its founding MCHT immediately assumed the role of targeting and collaborating in acquisitions planned for the National Park Service. By 1972 a local newspaper report revealed the contempt that Peggy Rockefeller and her wealthy outsider cohorts showed towards other peoples' property ownership and how the National Park Service was being used for local land control: Rockefeller

“and other wealthy outsiders who spend their summers along the cool, rugged coast have setup a trust that now shelters 27 sea-swept islands from realtors' whims. Eventually, they say, they hope to gain easements on all 2,500 of Maine's coastal islands, where weekend cottages have begun sprouting randomly... All of the islands brought under the trust's wing so far have been turned over to Acadia National Park...

The National Park Service had been involved in MCHT from the beginning. In the late 1960s, Peggy Rockefeller funded Acadia National Park Chief Ranger Robert Binnewies to set up and run MCHT for her; Binnewies became its first Executive Director, from 1970-1975. The funding and plans for the MCHT were fully in keeping with the Rockefeller family tradition of funding and influencing policy of the National Park Service to eliminate others' private owership of property they want preserved and controlled by government.

Binnewies was well cared for. Following his stint for Peggy Rockefeller running MCHT, he was rewarded with plum political appointments as Vice President of the National Audubon Society in 1976 or 77, and Superintendent of Yosemite National Park in July, 1979 – from which position he was fired in February 1986 when the police caught him illegally bugging a property owner whose land he wanted for the park, and he was accused of tolerating illegal drug transactions in the park. His connections with the political elite rescued him with another plum position as Executive Director of the Palisades Interstate Park Commission in NY and NJ, another preservation agency long under Rockefeller influence.

MCHT Downeast – Take It All

MCHT boasts [2010] in an extended PR campaign that it has a war chest of $100 million to buy up land – land that its backers do not want other people to own or use. It arranges for exclusionary preservation of land in wealthy coastal areas of southern and mid–coast Maine, and has targeted rural downeast Maine for sweeping preservation to eliminate private ownership over vast areas for what it calls “landscape level conservation”.

MCHT maintains and uses close connections with state and Federal government agencies, where it influences government land acquisition priorities and regulatory controls and their targeted application.

Oddly, the trust insists – on the rare occasions that it responds to criticism of its government corruption and trampling of property rights – that it buys from “willing sellers”, as if the fact that as an NGO (non-government organization) it does not itself have direct eminent domain powers absolves it from all other forms of corruption, dishonesty and coercion in collaboration with government agencies.

The history of MCHT in Washington County is especially arrogant and virulent.

In the late 1980s MCHT provided the National Park Service with an unpublished report (obtained under the Freedom of Information Act) compiling methods for a government takeover of private land in Washington County, including potential state, national and international park acquisition, greenline land use prohibitions and official designations intended to lead to them. The MCHT report was part of an arrangement with Greenline officials from Britain operating under an international agreement with the National Park Serivce. The agreement included pursuit of “The conservation and management of the undeveloped coast line” and “Techniques for securing the public interest in the conservation of privately owned land”.

The MCHT/National Park Service consortium also included land use planners at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. The latter group was also part of the US Forest Service's Northern Forest Lands Study arranged by pressure groups in the late 1980s to promote the Greeenlining of 26 million acres of mostly private property across four states, including 2/3 of Maine.

The Amherst Massachusetts strategic planing group was also involved in the 1988 National Parks and Conservation Association (NPCA) plan that included imposing five new National Parks on millions of acres in Maine. Two of the five encompassed most of Washington County and were based on MCHT's behind–the–scenes planning and NPS connections hidden from those who live, work and own the land in the targeted region: MCHT and the Maine State Planning Office were jointly cited in the 1988 NPCA National Park System Plan as the source for the scheme for the National Park Service to take over most of the private property in Washington County.

Implementing the plan would have resulted in mass condemnations to remove the people. The plan was soundly rejected after it was publicly revealed in national promotions by the Natural Resources Council of Maine and NPCA. MCHT tried to derail the protests against it in 1988 when it attempted to cajole the American Land Rights Association out of helping the property owners, claiming that MCHT was “doing good things”. As the National Park plan began to fail MCHT continued to advocate other Federal involvement.

In the late spring of 1988 MCHT was caught collaborating with the National Park Service and the Maine State Planning Office to designate, secretely, and illegally behind the backs of the property owners, the 20 mile coast through Cutler, Trescott, and Lubec as a “nationally significant” National Landmark. It took the property owners four years to stop the MCHT government designation, which MCHT had insisted was “voluntary”.

MCHT collaborated with the US Fish and Wildlife Service as an alternate mechanism for Federal acquisition downeast. Aside from an expansion in eastern Washington County of the Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge, engulfing and then removing unwilling private owners, that scheme to take over the much larger coastal region also failed. But it resulted in MCHT arranging through The Conservation Fund for national foundation funding from the Richard King Mellon Foundation for the acquisition of over 10,000 acres, a large portion of the towns of Cutler and Whiting, which it turned over to the state when their expected turning it into part of a new Federal Refuge failed.

MCHT has continued to buy up the land along the Washington County coast in a drive to take over as much as it can, especially in Lubec, Trescott and Cutler, using a combination of state subsidies and funding from wealthy national non profits like the Richard King Mellon Foundation.

Some of the acquisition was made possible by political alliances with more openly radical activists forcing owners to sell to the Trust through regulatory harassment and economic strangulation, as they did to Norman Langdon, the former owner of the land in MCHT's preserve at Western Head in Cutler that boasts that they stopped people's homes.

Inside the state, MCHT controls its own image by promoting itself as “assisting” landowners. Outside the state, where the controversy over MCHT's history is even less well known, it ominously promotes the Washington County coastline nationally as if it were a public park with no private ownership – an image MCHT wants to dominate so that no one will sympathize with its victims. Whatever it offers in the way of “assistance” to selected kinds of landowners in the state, it exploits political privilege and connections as its means; private property rights are the last thing it supports.

MCHT remains active in partisan state politics, quietly promoting state land use prohibitions and politicians who support it. But MCHT exploits its political and financial clout through the media as well. It continually bombards the state with politically self serving PR invoking manipulative scenic imagery which in turn dominates media coverage of MCHT with fauning adulation. The corruption and the behind–the–scenes power plays are not to be mentioned. Like the National Park Service, MCHT hides what it is behind the scenery.

For some of the background on Rockefeller money used to buy and influence National Park Service policy, including hiring NPS's Binnewies to start and run MCHT, see:

Last Update: 8/09/22