One of the privileges to living in coastal Maine is being surrounded by numerous wetlands, beaches, woods, and rocky coasts which help give towns like Cape Elizabeth, such a peaceful feel. As residents, we are fortunate not only for the presence, but the availability and accessibility to these sights and sounds of nature. Although surprising to most, some of Cape Elizabeth's most appreciated natural resources have not always been completely open to the public. One of these resources happens to be Great Pond, Cape Elizabeth's largest wetland. Unknown to many, the history of Great Pond is almost as decorative as its scenic landscape.
In the midst of urbanization in the early 1900's, a group of sportsmen from the Portland area formed the Great Pond Gun Club. In its formation, charter member Frederick O. Conant, through his rights and position with the Great Pond Mining and Agricultural Company, was beginning to believe he had complete control over the life and prosperity of Great Pond. As the club grew in number and status, the Great Pond Gun Club began insisting that Great Pond and its surrounding area was their private property. Needless to say, this attitude was not congruent with that of the Town's people, and a heated debate was sparked.
However, what Great Pond Gun Club President, Fred H. Thompson, and other members did not understand, was that Great Pond was open to the public under a law prompted by the Massachusetts General Court in 1641. The law reads, "Ponds containing more than ten acres of water are free for any man to fish and fowl there, and he may pass and repass on foot through any man's property for that end so that he trespass not upon any man's corn or meadow."
To further the Town's concern over the issue, at a special Town Meeting on December 7, 1903, the residents of Cape Elizabeth voted to accept a plan to build a throughfare from Fowler Road to the northern edge of Great Pond. After having their decision reversed by the Supreme Judicial Court, the Town's people formed the Bowery Beach Association to continue their fight to keep Great Pond open to the public.
On Tuesday, October 27, 1910, after years of arguments and meetings, the court came to a decision. To the Town's delight, Great Pond was ordered to be kept open to the public, and to continue following the law enacted by the state of Massachusetts in 1641.
Free fishing and fowling is still as prevalent today as it was in the day of the Great Pond Gun Club. In fact, to provide better access, a trail system, the Great Pond Link, has been created, and stretches along from Route 77 to the Alewife Brook. Informational signs are posted along the trail at specific points to show the varying degree of beauty. Whether it be the wooded fields or the beaver lodges, the trail aims to highlight the diverse nature, along with educating the community on the importance of Great Pond, not only as a place of public enjoyment, but as an ever-changing ecological process.
- Information was gathered from A History of Cape Elizabeth, by William B. Jordan Jr.