Human development of the Marsh began in Colonial times, when the Marsh served as a rich source of hay and pasture for livestock. Drainage ditches and hay roads are still visible on the marsh plain, especially in late winter and early spring when marsh vegetation is tamped down. In fact, a portion of the Marsh north of the Eastern Trail was once dammed (using a tide gate) to isolate the Dunstan Marsh area from the sea to promote land drainage and hay cultivation. During that period (until the early 1950s), trees and other upland plants grew in isolated portions of the marsh where they would not grow today.
More recently, the Marsh has become a recreation mecca for birders, fishers, paddlers and duck hunters. A 2010 summer bird survey identified 71 bird species in the Marsh, including Nelson’s Sparrows, two species of Egret, three species of Heron, Belted Kingfishers, Red-winged Blackbirds, and Herring Gulls. Several of these bird species (including gulls, egrets, yellow-legs and herons) are frequently spotted standing around pools on the marsh plain, peering at the water surface, looking for small fish to eat. These brackish water pools, called pannes, typically contain small fish, such as Stickleback and Mummichug. Larger fish, such as Striped Bass, are found in the deeper river channels. In summer 2012, a walker along the Eastern Trail spotted a small Sand Shark foraging for baitfish in the upper part of the Scarborough River!
Want to learn more about the Marsh? Get out there and observe it—during all seasons. You can start by walking across it on the Eastern Trail, between Pine Point and Black Point Roads. Or, you can visit Maine Audubon’s Scarborough Marsh Nature Center on your way to Pine Point Beach. There, you can listen to Audubon staff explain the Marsh’s intricate ecologic web, or view their displays of marsh mammals. On the Nature Center’s back deck, just south of the Center’s canoe/kayak launch ramp, check out a map of the marsh. This is also a good place to launch your canoe to paddle the rivers and creeks that cross-cut the marsh. It’s best to paddle at high tide; otherwise, you’ll be peering at the muddy river banks, without much of a view. If you decide to launch here, you’ll start your paddle on Dunstan River, before crossing under Eastern Trail and joining the Scarborough River.
You can access the lower portion of the Scarborough River by launching from Seavey’s Landing or Ferry Beach; or, you can start at the Town Landing at Pine Point (be careful, there’s more boat traffic here). These locations also provide access to the lower reaches of Libby River, just west of Black Point Road. The Clay Pits boat launch is probably the best place to access the Nonesuch River, unless you live near the river and have your own launch point. Troll a fishing lure while you paddle, and you might catch a Striper (Striped Bass).
If you have time, interest and energy, get involved with the Friends of Scarborough Marsh (FOSM). FOSM strives to help ensure the health of the Marsh for future generations by promoting programs that educate area residents about its importance as part of a vast environmental and recreational infrastructure. We are also involved in efforts to restore fringe areas of the Marsh overrun by invasive plants, such as Phragmites. While attractive, these intruders wreak havoc on the salt-marsh ecosystem, and interventions are critical to stemming their advance and restoring degraded areas back to salt-marsh flora. With partner organizations, such as Scarborough Land Trust, Maine Audubon, and Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, FOSM has worked with local property owners to conserve and protect critical marsh habitat along the edges of the Marsh.