State of the Beach/State Reports/ME/Beach Access

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Maine Ratings
Indicator Type Information Status
Beach Access52
Water Quality74
Beach Erosion8-
Erosion Response-6
Beach Fill5-
Shoreline Structures3 2
Beach Ecology5-
Surfing Areas25
Coastal Development{{{19}}}{{{20}}}
Sea Level Rise{{{21}}}{{{22}}}


Maine is one of five ocean coastal states (Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Virginia) that do not own the intertidal zone. Coastal property owners in Maine may maintain ownership to the Mean Low Water Mark, pursuant to historical English Common Law and the Massachusetts Colonial Ordinance of 1641-47, which in effect moved the line between public and private property to the low water mark, but not farther seaward of the high water mark than "100 rods," or 1,650 feet. This intertidal area (now called "private tidelands") is presumed to belong to the upland property owner, unless legal documentation proves otherwise for a given parcel. Although this means that most of the Maine coast is privately owned, for generations residents and visitors enjoyed a tradition of free passage over private lands to access tidal waters. This tradition began to be threatened approximately three decades ago as additional land was developed for businesses and homes. With a diminishing amount of coastal access for a range of activities -- such as commercial and recreational fishing, hunting, clamming, hiking, wildlife-watching, and boating -- the value of publicly owned access areas is rising.[1]

Maine statutes do provide the state with a public trust in intertidal land (Title 12, Chapter 202-A) permitting public access and use of the intertidal zone of the beach for the purposes of "fishing, fowling and navigation", in addition to the "right to use the intertidal land for recreation".

A landmark case in 1989 (Bell v. Town of Wells, 557 A.2d 168, known as the Moody Beach decision) sought to limit public access to the beach for recreation and declared the Maine statute unconstitutional. This case concerned the public's right to freely recreate on Moody Beach, a wide sandy beach flanked by over 100 houses and cottages. Shorefront owners of Moody Beach claimed that because the public's use of the beach was in no way related to "fishing, fowling or navigation", the town's use of this land amounted to an unconstitutional taking of private property. The town of Wells attempted to defend its use of the intertidal zone by demonstrating a history of recreation at Moody Beach. The final Maine Supreme Court ruling in this case stated that the historic uses of Moody beach were of no consequence to the case and that the inclusion of a broad range of public uses on private land amounted to an unconstitutional "taking." The court placed the responsibility for providing access on individual townships, stating that just compensation must be provided to landowners if their land is to be used by the general public for a wide array of uses.

In a more recent case in 2000 Eaton v. Town of Wells, the Maine Supreme Court found that the Town of Wells did have rights through an easement by prescription, citing historic recreational use and maintenance of the beach by the Town. As a sidebar in the Eaton decision, Judge J. Saufley made reference to the previous Bell v. Wells decision. "Pursuant to our holding in Bell, a citizen of the state may walk along a beach carrying a fishing rod or a gun, but may not walk along that same beach empty-handed or carrying a surfboard. This interpretation of the public trust doctrine is clearly flawed." She continues "In summary, common sense and sound judicial policy dictate that our holding in Bell should be overruled now, in order to preclude continuing uncertainty, expense, and disputes." However, the Bell decision has yet to be officially overruled.

In 2011, The Maine Supreme Judicial Court found that scuba diving should be included in the common law right of the public to walk across another person’s intertidal land. The court decided that it is irrelevant whether the activity fell under one of the traditional categories of “fishing,” “fowling,” or “navigation.” Instead, the court balanced the reasonable interests of private ownership of the intertidal lands and the public’s use of those lands. While the decision was narrow, the court opened the door for possible further expansion of the public trust doctrine in Maine. See article on this in the publication The SandBar.

Surfrider Foundation's Maine Chapter is currently engaged in litigation alongside the State and the Town of Kennebunkport, regarding public access at Goose Rocks Beach (Almeder v. Town of Kennebunkport). The Maine Law Court ruled in February 2014 on the side of private property owners as the case relates to prescriptive easements but they failed to issue an opinion relating to the public’s right of access via the Public Trust Doctrine and the Colonial Ordinance of 1647. Surfrider is awaiting a decision on a motion to reconsider the failure to rule on PTD (arguments on the motion were heard in April 2014; click for updates on the Goose Rocks Beach litigation). Historically, the Chapter engaged in a beach access case involving Secret Beach and the town of Eastport. The Eastport opportunity allowed Surfrider to have a voice before the highest court in the state, the Maine Law Court, to argue for an expansive interpretation of the Colonial Ordinance of 1647 to allow recreational activity.

State policy for shoreline access is embodied for all practical purposes in the public trust rights cited above and in two subsections of the Coastal Management Policies. Title 38, Chapter 19, Section 1801 of these policies states, in part:

"The Legislature declares that the well-being of the citizens of this State depends on striking a carefully considered and well reasoned balance among the competing uses of the State's coastal area. The Legislature directs that state and local agencies and federal agencies as required by the United States Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972, PL 92-583, with responsibility for regulating, planning, developing or managing coastal resources, shall conduct their activities affecting the coastal area consistent with the following policies to:

3. Shoreline management and access. Support shoreline management that gives preference to water-dependent uses over other uses, that promotes public access to the shoreline and that considers the cumulative effects of development on coastal resources.

7. Recreation and tourism. Expand the opportunities for outdoor recreation and encourage appropriate coastal tourist activities and development."

A very good summary of State policy regarding coastal access is Public Shoreline Access in Maine, A Citizen’s Guide to Ocean and Coastal Law, Revised Edition, September 2004, produced by the Marine Law Institute, University of Maine School of Law; Maine Sea Grant College Program; and University of Maine Cooperative Extension.

The 2001 Coastal Assessment and Strategy has the following comment:

The public use and economic value of the State’s beaches and other intertidal areas continue to grow. Demographic changes and changing land uses may threaten existing public uses of intertidal areas for commercial and recreational purposes not clearly within the scope of “fishing, fowling and navigation.” In addition, these same factors may threaten public access to intertidal areas and thus frustrate exercise of historic public access to these areas. In contrast, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ public trust doctrine as applied to the intertidal zone stems from the same colonial ordinance as Maine’s, but it appears that Massachusetts law may construe the nature and extent of public rights in the intertidal area somewhat more expansively. A review and revision, as appropriate, of the legislative policies underlying the State’s Public Trust Act could be a means to secure broader public rights important to Maine people now and in the future.

From the Coastal Assessment and Strategy:

The state has in place several effective programs to acquire land for public use and enjoyment, and has made significant progress in recent years to secure access to the water and to protect important land along the coast. Many organizations including local land trusts are active in the state, oftentimes working together to acquire land for public purposes. Year by year, acreage is being protected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and is added to the state’s three national wildlife refuges. According to the Conservation Lands Inventory, Maine has 71,009 acres of federally owned conservation land in the coastal zone. The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (DIFW) and the Maine Department of Conservation (DOC) have acquired lands and added them to their wildlife management areas, state parks and reserve lands. Currently, there are 80,757 acres of state owned conserved lands in the coastal zone. Two statewide nonprofit conservation organizations, The Nature Conservancy (Maine Chapter) and the Maine Coast Heritage Trust, have also worked to acquire spectacular properties on the mainland and on islands (many parcels have been transferred to State ownership). Over the past 10 years, many land trusts have been established in coastal communities, so that as of 2005 there were 59 local and regional land trusts active in the coastal zone. It is difficult to pin down an exact figure for the amount of conserved coastal lands held by land trusts given that the acquired parcels on the coast often extend beyond the boundaries of the coastal zone. However, according to the Maine Coast Heritage Trust, since 1970, over 30,000 acres of coastal lands have been preserved in fee, and an additional 30,000 acres have been protected through easements in the coastal zone.

The rate of coastal land acquisitions for conservation and water access has been dramatically increased by the Land for Maine’s Future Program (LMF). Since LMF was established in 1987, Maine voters have authorized the expenditure of $85 million in public bonds for public land purchases. In 2005 voters authorized an additional $12 million for land conservation purchases, including a $2 million set aside for protecting working waterfront properties. Since its inception, the Land for Maine's Future Program has assisted in the acquisition of more than 189,900 acres of conservation lands of state, regional, and local significance, with an additional 51,000 acres protected through conservation easements. In the state’s coastal zone, LMF funding has supported 75 land acquisitions totaling 25,293 acres. Coastal acquisitions range from small boat launch sites to long stretches of undeveloped coastal headlands.

In 2002, the State issued a report A Review of the Effectiveness of the Maine Coastal Plan in Meeting the State's Public Access and Working Waterfront Policy Goals. In conducting this review, the Land and Water Resources Council was directed to (1)“explore state and local jurisdiction and authority”, (2) consider the “development of incentives for municipalities to improve coastal access”, (3) consider the “development of incentives for municipalities to conserve working waterfront lands for water-dependent uses”, and (4) discuss the “development of performance indicators to allow for ongoing measurement of progress”.

An important related document is Maine’s Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP). Maine’s SCORP identifies the demand for and supply of outdoor recreation areas and facilities based on available information, and discusses outdoor recreation issues of statewide importance based on public and focus group comment. The plan's Implementation Program suggests broad priorities for expenditure of federal Land and Water Conservation Fund dollars in Maine.

The Maine Coastal Program (MCP) continues to fund several beach access initiatives with Coastal Zone Management funds. Through federal funding, MCP has been providing funding to municipalities through the Right-of-Way Discovery Grant Program. This program has been in place since 1996 and typically provides 8 to 10 small ($800-$1,500) grants to coastal communities in order to rediscover or reaffirm public rights-of-way to the coast. These grants provide small amounts of money to coastal towns and land trusts to inventory and clear title to public rights-of-way along the coast. The Maine Coastal Program also helps coastal communities meet matching requirements for LMF projects through a small grants program.

The Maine Coast Protection Initiative (MCPI) increases the pace and quality of land protection by enhancing the capacity of Maine’s conservation community to preserve the unique character of the Maine coast for the benefit of the people of Maine and beyond.

A local filmmaker, Ben Keller, is working to produce a documentary King Charles' Coast - Whose Beach Is It Anyway?

Site Inventory

Only 7% of the shoreline in Maine is publicly owned, according to Pogue P. and Lee V., 1999, "Providing Public Access to the Shore: The Role of Coastal Zone Management Programs," Coastal Management 27:219-237. The Maine State Planning Office (SPO) (eliminated July 1, 2012) estimated that 94% of the coastline was privately owned in 1989. Another estimate puts the percentage of privately-owned shoreline at 97%.[2] This same document identifies 350 public access sites. This corresponds to about one public access site for every 10 miles of shoreline.

According to the Maine Coastal Plan, about 5% of the total land area in the coastal zone is publicly owned.

There is no comprehensive inventory of all public access sites on the Maine coast. Public access sites are defined here as federal, state, and municipal lands and parks, boat ramps, picnic areas, and conservation lands owned by nonprofit groups, as well as privately owned access ways historically used by fishermen. In all but the sites owned and managed by state, federal, and nonprofit organizations, the condition, availability, and future use of all of these access sites are unknown.

The Maine Sea Grant Website has links to several publications relevant to the policy aspects of public access. Resources include a a 2004 report Public Shoreline Access in Maine, A Citizen’s Guide to Ocean and Coastal Law, the presentation Maine's Coastal Access Law (note slide #13), as well as information on the Coastal Program’s Right-of-Way Discovery Grants Program. In addition, Maine Sea Grant has a Coastal Access page with multiple links to reference materials on coastal access, including the proceedings of several workshops.

A new (February 2009) resource is Sea Grant's Accessing the Maine Coast, Everything you wanted to know about rights and responsibilities of accessing the coast of Maine. This site is an information resource for coastal property owners, beach and waterfront users, public and environmental interest groups, and municipal, state, and federal governments. The site offers legal tools to address the specific coastal access questions and needs of these stakeholder groups.

Information on beach State Parks in Maine can be found for Crescent Beach State Park, Ferry Beach State Park and Popham Beach State Park. A beach listing for Maine can be found here.

Surfrider Foundation's Maine Chapter has compiled beach access information (and a lot more, including general characteristics, shoreline structures, coastal outfalls, surfing areas, wildlife and natural features) for 12 beach areas in Maine. The chapter also assisted in a town effort to buy a parking lot that gives the public convenient access to Higgins Beach in Scarborough.

The Maine Coast Protection Initiative was launched in 2003 to increase the pace and quality of coastal land conservation by improving the ability of land trusts to strategically conserve high priority habitats, public access, and scenic and cultural resources in their service areas. Through this initiative, land trusts are assisted with conservation planning to identify priority areas or resources for proactive conservation efforts, including high priority needs, such as public water access. An implementation grant to the Island Institute is supporting a coastwide inventory of public access sites and private commercial fishing sites and facilities, which will be the basis of a public access data layer in Maine’s GIS database. Additional analysis is planned to identify and prioritize access needs for inclusion in local conservation plans.

In July 2006 an article in the Bangor News referenced a study by Janet Parker, coordinator of geographic information systems for the State Planning Office. Parker found that there were at least 890 miles of publicly owned shoreline along 5,412 miles of coastline, a figure that includes islands and tidal estuaries. This calculates to 16.4% public ownership of the coast, a higher number than the one quoted in the Pogue and Lee study. Parker's report noted that Waldo County has 172 miles of shoreline, with at least 22 miles (12.8%) publicly owned. Nearby Hancock County has 1,714 miles of shoreline, with at least 237 miles (13.8%) conserved through public ownership.

There has not been a recent survey of municipal parks, but a past survey by SPO found 135 beaches and 167 picnic sites owned by coastal communities. There are also hundreds of small parcels of land owned by coastal municipalities that provide access.

There are numerous traditional and deeded rights-of-way to the coast, but a complete inventory is not available. The Maine Coastal Program recently provided funds to 16 coastal towns to document or rediscover traditional rights-of-way. Right-of-way discovery grants provide small amounts of money to coastal towns and land trusts to inventory and clear title to public rights-of-way along the coast. This effort has led to reestablishment of public access to the coast in several towns. The MCP has developed a brochure to better promote this program.

According to the MCP there are 15 state parks in coastal towns.

The Maine Department of Conservation, Bureau of Parks and Lands Website has a search engine that lets you look for parks, public reserve lands, or historic sites by name. Once you get to the selected site, it gives a nice description of the site, including facilities.

Beach Attendance Records

Information on beach attendance in Maine was not readily available. However, the MCP reports that about 80% of Maine's 8 million annual visitors come to the coast.

Economic Evaluation of Beaches

An article in the Boston Globe on July 4, 2009 indicated that Maine's sand beaches bring about $500 million of new money into the state each year and support some 8,000 jobs. The article provided additional data regarding the value of Maine's beaches and mentioned that "the value of Maine beaches and the impact of the rising sea level [were] the focus of the 2009 Maine Beaches Conference." More info.

The MCP indicates that of $2.7 billion tourist-generated dollars, 80% is spent at the coast. The coastal region accounts for 57% of state personal income, yet contains only 44% of Maine's population. As the eight coastal counties contain most of the largest and most active shopping malls and the bulk of Maine's tourist activity, they accounted for 57.2% of the state's taxable retail sales in 1997. Tourism is a large and vital component of Maine's coastal economy, but no research done within the past 20 years has been sufficiently detailed to yield precise numbers for valuation of beaches. It is estimated that the eight coastal counties account for about three-fourths of all Maine tourist spending.

Based on a self-administered survey of visitors to Maine state parks and historic sites in 2005, it was estimated that visitors spent $60.3 million on goods and services directly related to their state park visits. See The Economic Contributions of Maine State Parks: A Survey of Visitor Characteristics, Perceptions and Spending (June 2006).

The Wells Bay Regional Beach Management Plan (February 2002) listed the following findings:

  • In 1997 U.S. overnight travelers took an estimated 3.5 million trips to southern Maine’s coast. Of these 2.1 million travelers stayed overnight in the region and 1.4 million passed through the area.
  • Marketable pleasure trips in southern Maine, excluding visits to friends and relatives, totaled 1.1 million in 1997, representing about 30% of total pleasure trips in Maine. Of these trips, 45% of visitors came to tour the region and 27% came to enjoy area beaches.
  • The seasonal variation in retail and services employment in Wells Bay indicates the economic importance of beaches in southern Maine. The average increase due to seasonal variation for the retail employment sector between 1993 and 1999 averages 84% higher during August when compared to March. The average increase for the services employment sector between 1993 and 1999 averages 37% higher during August when compared to March.
  • The seasonal variation in the Other Retail (includes items not found in department stores such as jewelry/leather, sporting goods, bookstores, gift shops, toys, crafts, etc.) and Restaurant/Lodging taxable sales categories shows the impact of beach communities. The average annual taxable sales for the other retail category in the Wells Bay region between 1993 and 1999 was 355% higher during the third quarter (July-Sept) when compared to the first quarter (Jan-Mar), ranging from $1.9 million to $8.8 million respectively. Average annual taxable sales for restaurant/lodging for the region during the same period was 615% higher during the third quarter when compared to the first quarter, ranging from $7.5 million to $61.6 million respectively. A local option sales taxes accruing to municipalities in Wells Bay would generate roughly $98,000 and $197,000 annually, based on 1% and 2% of total annual average restaurant and lodging sales during the first and third quarters.
  • The total municipal valuation of the Wells Bay region (Ogunquit, Wells, and Kennebunk) is over $2.2 billion, of which a considerable portion is estimated to be attributable to beach-related properties.

NOAA's Office for Coastal Management (OCM) has written a discussion of the recreational value of beaches, in the context of beach fill projects. In 2009 OCM released Introduction to Economics for Coastal Managers, a basic introduction to economic ideas and methods that can be applied to coastal resource management. The economic concepts provided in this introduction are illustrated through several case studies. Other OCM/Digital Coast publications can be found here.

The following two websites provide information on the economic value of coasts and the ocean throughout the country.

The National Ocean Economics Program (NOEP) provides a full range of the most current economic and socio-economic information available on changes and trends along the U.S. coast and in coastal waters. You can download data on jobs and GDP associated with specific types of coastal activities for each coastal state. You also can download data on commercial fishing and landings. The NOEP made public their fully updated Non-Market Valuation website in September 2008. The largest database in the world of studies documenting the environmental and recreational values of ocean resources, the website now includes 1) an updated methodologies section, 2) frequently asked questions, 3) examples of how Non-Market valuation influences public policy, and 4) an expanded table summarizing valuation estimates from across the United States. In 2014 NOEP released an updated State of the U.S. Ocean and Coastal Economies - 2014, which points out that there is an imbalance between the economic importance of coasts and coastal oceans and the federal support for stewardship of these resources. According to the report, coastal states supply over 81 percent of American jobs and contribute $13 trillion to the economy, or 84 percent of GDP. More on this here. The National Ocean Economics Program previously released State of the U.S. Ocean and Coastal Economies - 2009, which presents time-series data compiled over the past 10 years that track economic activities, demographics, natural resource production, non-market values, and federal expenditures in the U.S. coastal zone on land and water. The report states that coastal states account for more than 80 percent of the U.S. economy. The most recent report released by NOEP is the State of the U.S. Ocean and Coastal Economies - 2016. The Center for the Blue Economy (CBE) at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey now houses the National Ocean Economics Program (NOEP).

The website of Restore America's Estuaries has a report The Economic and Market Value of Coasts and Estuaries: What's At Stake?. According to the report, U.S. coasts and estuaries that have been protected and managed in a sustainable way are worth billions. Beaches, coastal communities, ports, and fragile bays are economic engines that drive and support large sectors of the national economy. The report focuses on aspects of coasts and estuaries that are most dependent on ecologically healthy conditions. The authors also examined a growing body of research that reveals the economic consequences of environmental change in coastal and estuary ecosystems.

A report A Review and Summary of Human Use Mapping in the Marine and Coastal Zone was published in December 2010. This report was prepared by ERG for NOAA's Coastal Services Center. The report evaluated different methods and approaches to measure human uses of the coastal and marine environment. The uses were divided into 1) military and industrial uses, 2) consumptive uses (e.g., fishing) and 3) non-consumptive activities (e.g., swimming, surfing, kayaking).

The economic value of beaches can increase or decrease due to a number of factors, including beach width; the presence or absence of amenities such as parking, restrooms or lifeguard services; the suitability of the beach for activities such as surfing or swimming; and the presence or absence of pollution and beach litter. In June 2014 NOAA published an infographic on the high cost of marine debris based on the report Assessing the Economic Benefits of Reductions in Marine Debris: A Pilot Study of Beach Recreation in Orange County, California, which was prepared by Industrial Economics, Inc. for NOAA's Marine Debris Division. It found that having debris on the beach and good water quality are the leading factors in deciding which beach residents visit. Reducing marine debris by even 25 percent at beaches in and near Orange County, California, could save residents approximately $32 million during the summer by not having to travel long distances to other beaches. Beach characteristics were collected for 31 popular Southern California public beaches from San Onofre Beach to Zuma Beach. Orange County residents were also surveyed on their recreation habits, including how many day trips they took to the beach from June - August 2013, where they went, how much it cost them, and which beach characteristics are important to them. The results provided in an estimate if how much Orange County residents would potentially benefit, including how often they visit beaches and how much they would save in travel costs, over a summer season by reducing marine debris at some or all of these 31 beaches. The study focused on Orange County because of the number and variety of beaches, their importance to permanent residents, ease of access, and likelihood that marine debris would be present. Researchers believe that, given the results, the study could be modified for assessing similar coastal communities in the United States.

For additional general discussion of the economic impacts of beaches, please see the article Economic Impact of Beaches.

Perception of Supply and Demand

The 2006 Coastal Assessment and Strategy (a.k.a., Maine Coastal Plan) contains the following text:

Maine has a long coast that stretches some 5,300 miles when all of its bays and tidal rivers are factored in along with 4,613 islands that are an acre or more in size. While most of the Maine coast is privately owned, for generations residents and visitors have enjoyed a tradition of unhindered passage over private lands to access tidal waters. This tradition is being lost as coastal land becomes increasingly used for residential and commercial development. With a diminishing amount of coastal land available for a range of activities – such as commercial and recreational fishing, hunting, clamming, hiking, wildlife-watching, and boating – the importance of securing public access has risen substantially in recent years.

Public access to the coast occurs in several forms including scenic or visual access from public roads and lands, physical access over public and private conserved lands to the shore, and a range of water access sites and facilities for recreational and commercial activities. Active land conservation efforts by towns, state and federal agencies is one way public access is being created. State boating facilities programs coupled with local town efforts are preserving and improving public access for recreational boating, fishing, and hunting activities. Working access to the coast is being addressed through local planning, a new current use taxation program, the activities of the Working Waterfront Coalition and a new pilot working waterfront acquisition program.

Later, the report states:

The ability to gain access to coastal waters continues to be a persistent and critical issue for residents and visitors alike. This is particularly true in periods of strong economic growth when coastal land development and the loss of land for public access occur at a more rapid pace.

A 2002 survey of 25 coastal fishing communities conducted for the Maine Coastal Program by Coastal Enterprises, Inc. found that 64 percent of respondents viewed the loss of public and working access as a major community concern, and 80% of the towns contemplated efforts to address the issue.

Clearly, public access to Maine’s coastal waters is an issue that will not go away, particularly for the state’s coastal waters, which support both recreational and commercial users. In fact, the need to address the issue will only become more pressing. Below are indicators of the need for public access:

  • Population and Tourism Growth – Almost half of the state’s population lives in coastal towns. From 1990 to 2000 the population of coastal towns grew approximately 6% to 565,645. Coastal population is expected to increase another 9% by the year 2015. In 2000, over 74% of the total state population lived in coastal counties, a 6.5% increase over 1990. The Maine coast is also the major draw for visitors. According to the Maine Office of Tourism visitors made 9.4 million overnight trips to Maine in 1999, with 46% of these trips to the southern Maine coast and 37% to Greater Portland/Casco Bay. Areas that consistently receive a large number of visitors include the southern coast and Mt. Desert Island. While tourism growth fluctuates with national economic conditions, the Tourism Office expects that the number of visitors to the coast will rise over time.
  • Growth in Recreational Activities – The recreational use of coastal waters is still strong. According to the Marine Recreational Fisheries Statistics Survey (2004), conducted by the Maine Department of Marine Resources and the National Marine Fisheries Service, the number of saltwater anglers in Maine dropped slightly from 308,200 (142,204 were Maine residents) in 2001 to 287,435 (132,248 were Maine residents) in 2004. These numbers fluctuate yearly, depending on the weather and fishing interest, but sports fishermen remain substantial users of water access facilities.

Maine’s long coastline and many islands continue to be an attraction for resident and nonresident kayak and canoe paddlers. A recent study found that there were approximately 54,000 kayaking clients enjoying the services of sea kayaking guides. The number of paddlers accessing the coast via the Maine Island Trail has increased slightly over the past 4-5 years, while membership in the Maine Island Trail Association has increased by 18% from 3,400 members in 1999 to 4,000 in 2005.

The number of users of Maine's coastal resources continues to climb. The coastal zone of Maine is growing faster than inland areas, and land along the coast continues to be developed. From 1980 to 1997, the population of Maine's eight coastal counties increased by about 103,000. Visitors flock to Maine in increasing numbers. These upward trends in land development, population, recreational usage, and tourism are expected to continue.

When viewed in context of its size, its draw for visitors and residents, and its recreational and commercial value, the Maine coast offers little access, particularly boat access sites. When all its bays, inlets, and tidal rivers are included, the Maine coastline is approximately 5,300 miles long. Less than 5% of the total land area in the coastal zone is publicly owned, and there are only 72 state and municipal boat ramps along the entire coast.

To improve access, Maine needs to buy shorefront and/or otherwise provide access or easements for the public, and invest in associated infrastructure to accommodate people without causing serious environmental degradation to the shoreline and coastal waters. Maine has in place a network of knowledgeable agencies, lists of deserving projects, and equitable processes for prioritizing the spending of scarce public dollars. The first place to look for a statement of need for more access is in the comprehensive plans of coastal communities, which emphasize and detail the nature of that need.

Another measure of the extent of Maine's need for coastal access is in a response to a 1998 access project survey of communities conducted by the State Planning Office (SPO). Although municipalities submitted 50 projects, only one of these projects was initially identified to receive outside funding.

Recent research by SPO adds a new reason to the imperative of establishing a variety of public access opportunities. People in Maine are learning that one of the most important preconditions to making Maine's towns and cities more livable is nearby public access to Maine's coastal resources. SPO public surveys indicate that almost 90% of the respondents said that there is a need for additional coastal water access.

While some beaches in Maine face potential threats to reduced access, a major constraint to public access for recreation is the lack of adequate parking facilities for visitors. In some instances parking is very limited or nonexistent.

Impediments to improving coastal access in Maine, as identified by the Coastal Assessment and Strategy are:

  • Sources of funding for land acquisition remain limited and represent a significant impediment to providing adequate access. This past year, Land for Maine’s Future (LMF) program received proposals for 20 million dollars worth of land acquisition projects. However, LMF only had $10 million in available funds.
  • In the face of the increasing demands for waterfront properties, reliance on the traditional custom of passage over private lands to gain access to state waters is no longer an effective policy to ensure widespread public access to the coast. The public has relatively limited rights to travel over private property to access the shore based on public trust rights in the intertidal zone which are restricted to three narrowly defined activities - fishing, fowling, and navigation. In addition, provision of public access is not required by state permits for development projects. Towns do, however, have some influence through subdivision review and approvals to protect existing access and perhaps gain some additional access ways, at least for residents in the planned subdivision.
  • Land Costs – Rising land values along the coast are making it more difficult for the state and other to acquire land for the public benefit. Coastal land values are appreciating at rates of 12% per year (based on LMF experience with property appraisals), reducing the effectiveness of acquisition programs, which often cannot compete with the market because they must purchase property at or below appraised fair market value.
  • Access Opportunities – The opportunities for acquiring land for public access, especially in high priority areas, is limited by the number of suitable sites and timing of property coming up for sale.
  • Lack of Community Support – Sometimes adjoining land owners and/or towns oppose the planned development of a public boat or pedestrian access sites, which can pose major problems for access development. While most people support increased water access, sometimes they oppose it if it is in proximity to their homes and businesses, or they feel it is being thrust upon them.

Appendix G of the report Strategic Plan for Implementing The Maine Nature Tourism Initiative (September 2005) states:

"...tourism development planners and practitioners should remain as flexible as possible in considering new ways of partnering with private landowners while bearing in mind the rights of property owners and the responsibilities that accompany the privilege of using private property. Given the increasing concern over the ability of nature-based tourism businesses to retain access to the natural landscapes critical to their economic survival, and in addition to maintaining and enhancing the public/private partnerships described above, the state should continually explore all possible avenues, ranging from economic incentives to recreational easements to public land acquisitions, to ensuring continued access to, and the existence of, large-scale recreational landscapes and wildlife habitats, both inland and on the coast."

Here's a link to a more recent report in 2010.

Public Education Program

The Maine Sea Grant Website has multiple links to reference materials on coastal access, including the proceedings of several workshops.

A new (February 2009) resource is Sea Grant's Accessing the Maine Coast, Everything you wanted to know about rights and responsibilities of accessing the coast of Maine. This site is an information resource for coastal property owners, beach and waterfront users, public and environmental interest groups, and municipal, state, and federal governments. The site offers legal tools to address the specific coastal access questions and needs of these stakeholder groups.

Maine Coastline, a biannual newsletter published by the MCP from 2002 to 2008, focused on coastal issues within the state.

Each year, MCP helps facilitate public education, outreach, and group activities for Maine's Coastweek.

In order to help with public education on coastal issues, the Maine Surfrider Chapter has been coordinating with local schools and parks, such as the Ferry Beach State Park Ecology School (see the Beach Ecology section for more information on this school), to schedule talks and provide information on coastal stewardship, water quality, and coastal erosion issues. In addition, the Maine Chapter periodically organizes beach cleanups.

For the past several years, MCP, in conjunction with the Maine Geological Survey, University of Maine Cooperative Extension and Sea Grant, and the University of Maine, Maine Beaches Conference. The conference brings together scientists, beach conservation group members, and local stakeholders in order to raise awareness of beach and coastal issues. In addition to plenary sessions on various coastal topics, the conference typically includes roundtable discussions of important coastal issues, and several field trips. Public access to beaches, intertidal rights, and working access to the coast were topics at the 2005 Maine Beaches Conference. Access to and use of Maine beaches continues to be a key public issue for coastal residents.

The Maine Sea Grant education program seeks to improve K-12 marine-related educational opportunities in the state, as well as continued learning programs for educators. The education program offers in-service teacher training workshops and develops curriculum materials that incorporate Maine's Learning Results. Maine Sea Grant also supports the Maine Research Internships for Teachers and Students (MERITS) summer internship program for high school students and teachers. In addition, members of Maine Sea Grant's Marine Extension Team conduct many formal and informal educational programs and have valuable connections with teachers and students throughout the state. Extension associates assist with lessons, provide field experiences, and participate in curriculum development.

Contact Info

Julia Noordyk
NOAA Coastal Management Fellow
Maine Coastal Program
Bureau of Geology, Natural Areas and Coastal Resources
Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry
17 Elkins Lane
Augusta, Maine 04333-0038


  1. Maine Coastal Plan.
  2. Ringold, P.L., and Clark, J., 1980, The Coastal Almanac. W.H. Freeman and Co., San Francisco, CA, 172 pp.

State of the Beach Report: Maine
Maine Home Beach Description Beach Access Water Quality Beach Erosion Erosion Response Beach Fill Shoreline Structures Beach Ecology Surfing Areas Website
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