The Cathance River Nature Preserve is an example of the good that can come of choosing collaboration over confrontation. In 1999, word spread in Topsham that a developer, John Wasileski, had purchased a large parcel west of the Coastal Connector and was planning to build a 55+ community and 18-hole golf course. The property included extensive frontage on a section of the Cathance River that many locals cherished as its most beautiful and engaging stretch, filled with boulders, spring whitewater, and serene pools.
In response, Bowdoin professor John Rensenbrink and his wife, Carla, marshaled a diverse group of people that coalesced as Topsham’s Future, a citizen’s group that became an advocate for environmentally sound, community-centered development.
Topsham’s Future hired a landscape architect and planner who suggested a clustered configuration for the homes and buffer along the river that included trails. Those involved praise John Wasileski for his willingness to consider a significant change to the initial design. The final development plan accepted the clustering concept, reduced the golf course to nine holes, and expanded the setback from the river to 1,000 feet. It turned out that nature trails were appealing to people in the market for homes in 55+ communities.
John Wasileski and John Rensenbrink continued to meet, hammering out the details of a negotiated agreement. Both men were committed to the environment, so the final agreement included a 235-acre nature preserve and formation of a ‘group’ to encourage and nurture ecological education in surrounding schools.
The nature preserve was permanently protected by a conservation easement, created in 2001, that is held by Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust. The ‘group’ was the seed that grew into Cathance River Education Alliance. In 2023, following extensive exploration and discussion by CREA and BTLT Boards, the memberships of both organizations voted to join forces as a single organization. The vote grew out of a conviction that working together, we will be stronger and better able to meet the needs of the community. The merger took effect July 1, 2023.
The preserve continues to be owned by Central Topsham Associates, an entity owned and managed by John Wasileski.
Use of the Preserve is governed by the landowner and provisions of the conservation easement that protects the area. The conservation easement is held and administered by Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust. Some restrictions on use originate in the easement, others originate from the landowner. Public access to the preserve is provided for in the easement subject to a number of constraints and conditions. For details, contact Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust or the landowner.
CREA holds a 99-year lease on a small area within the Preserve that surrounds the Ecology Center. CREA owns and maintains the Ecology Center. The interesting history and construction story of the Ecology Center can be found here.
Cathance River Nature Preserve trails have been managed and supported via a partnership between Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust, CREA, and the landowner. The trail partners meet annually to collaborate and make management decisions. All partners contribute financially to trail maintenance, with Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust taking the lead role in planning, procuring materials, and maintaining trails.