Voices of Conservation

Harpswell Coastal Academy documents ‘people resources’

Photo by Phelan Gallagher

Eli Appleby and Ernest DeRaps with Ernest’s lighthouse painting.


Photo by Phelan Gallagher

Dave Hackett is interviewed by Oscar Hadjaissa and Alex Namer.

It is officially spring according to the calendar, but it certainly hasn’t felt like it. April is a pivot point in my mind – a point of reflection looking back toward winter and forward toward the coming of actual spring when the snow has finally melted and buds start to break open.

It seems a fitting time to write about reflections on our coastal communities and the people who teach us both about the past and inform us about the future. Even in the chilly winter months and mucky months of early spring, people are captivated by the history along Maine’s coast and the people that give it its character.

While we often focus on the stewardship of our natural resources, it is our “people resources” that create the culture singular to our coast. The challenge is how to learn about and record the stories and passions of those people so that the next generation might carry this culture into the future.

Students and teachers at Harpswell Coastal Academy have been working on just this. HCA is a free charter school serving grades 6-12 with campuses located in Brunswick and Harpswell. Teachers Phelan Gallagher and Kelly Orr have spearheaded the project.

With funding from the Holbrook Community Foundation and in collaboration with Harpswell Heritage Land Trust, they have been collecting oral histories of coastal characters. These stories are being recorded and archived for the public. The project started in 2015 with “Voices of the Sea” and continued with “Voices of the Working Waterfront” in 2016. They just celebrated the completion of the third part of the series, “Voices of Conservation,” with a reception at the Harp-swell Heritage Land Trust office on March 23.

It isn’t simple to capture these personalities, let alone choose whom from among the many amazing folks, to interview. But, teachers have come up with a simple template for each profile that makes it easy both for the interviewer and interviewee and also be the accessible for the reader.

For each project, students write questions and conduct interviews of selected community members. They transcribe these interviews and choose a short audio clip that will be shared publicly.

HCA student Eli Appleby describes the process of distilling the story. “Once we had transcribed our full interview, we were able to move on to putting our script together. We pulled full paragraphs out of our 50 minutes worth of transcription to start to build our story. This process was pretty tedious, but I feel like it was probably the most important part. Even though I was just copying and pasting, I really learned how to find the story that I wanted to tell, and it became a little bit more than just a process.”

The list of those included in “Voices of Conservation” is impressive and broad, from Lynda Doughty, founder of Marine Mammals of Maine, to Dave Hackett from Harp-swell Historical Society, to Brownie Carson, state senator and renowned conservation lawyer.

You can view all nine of those recently profiled, as well as those from previous profiles at Harpswell Stories, https://harpswellstories.org.

This is very much a living history featuring people working along the coast right now. It isn’t intended to be an archive as much as it is a capturing of the present moment. These profiles have been created and recorded by students who will carry this knowledge into the future. And, in the process, they will share this information with the public who will also draw from their lessons.

“It’s so beneficial for us (the students) to get out in the community and meet older citizens who have so much knowledge that needs to be passed down to the next generation, especially concerning conservation,” says HCA student Calvin Dundore.

HCA plans to continue the project, picking a different theme each year, to build upon the stories they have already collected.

Conservation means looking at how we got to where we are now, learning from that path and figuring out a way forward. This kind of transference of knowledge and experience is invaluable as we think about our coasts and all the aspects of it that are important to us.

Susan Olcott is a Coastal Journal contributing writer. She can reached at: susan.olcott@gmail.com