Dave Getchell's leadership as a conservationist has resulted in the founding of three organizations important in the protection of Maine’s natural treasures, beginning with the Maine Island Trail Association (MITA). The first association of its kind in the country, MITA has since charted the course for other water trails nationwide.
When asked to describe what makes Maine unique, many people think of the rugged coast dotted with hundreds of small islands, many of them wild. But it was not until the mid 1980s that this iconic natural wonder became the focus of dedicated conservation and recreation efforts. The state of Maine asked the nonprofit Island Institute, along with Dave's help, to survey Maine's state-owned islands and identify which islands had the potential to support land recreation.
It didn't take long before he looked beyond the trails and proposed something new: a recreational water trail that would connect the islands and make them accessible to sailors, kayakers and other boaters. The water trail would allow small boats to dock at the islands and the passengers to enjoy them for the day or camp overnight.
Since its founding, MITA has added over 180 properties, many of which are privately owned. A recent study by Harvard University found that MITA brings $1.75 million in revenue to the state. And thanks to Dave's vision and example, over 500 similar water trails now exist throughout North America.
"Dave is one of those very self-effacing, inspiring people who lead with their actions, not with their claims. He works hard to undersell his role in the creation but in fact, he is the person most responsible for the notion of a water trail," says Doug Welch, Executive Director of MITA.
In 1993, the volunteers and small staff of MITA, along with the National Park Service, organized a national conference held on the Hudson River. Out of that came North American Water Trails, a nonprofit organization that continued to help create water trails throughout North America. "Dave continues to push in a very welcomed way," says Doug. "He is a daily inspiration to us."
Dave's passion for conservation and recreation did not end with water trails. He helped the Georges River Land Trust to build the Georges Highland Path, a 40-mile public hiking trail in the St. George Watershed along the midcoast of Maine. He also worked to organize the nonprofit Friends of Baxter State Park, an independent citizen group working to preserve, support, and enhance the wilderness character of the park. Currently, Dave is proposing his largest water trail yet – a Great Eastern Water Trail that would extend from Eastern Maine to the Florida Keys.
At a recent event where Getchell was being honored by the Maine Coast Heritage Trust, he told the audience, "In these somewhat cynical times, it is heartening to see so many private landowners willing to share their land with a caring public. In my experience, the vast majority of hikers and boaters do not need policing and strict rules but instead respond with respect and appreciation for the privilege of enjoying these beautiful places."
To learn more about the Maine Island Trail Association, visit mita.org.