Over the past ten years, this magical island has been transformed by Rippleffect into an educational eco-campus, but Cow Island’s diverse history begins much further back.
It is hypothesized that Cow Island’s name was derived from its use by local farmers in the early 1800’s as pastureland for grazing animals. The ocean provided natural protection from predators and was a natural fence that kept livestock from wandering. Incidentally, this agrarian past provides the derivation of many Maine island names, such as Sheep, Cow, Goat and Ram.
In 1873, the U.S. Army purchased Cow Island for the purposes of defending Portland Harbor, but construction on the outpost that was later named Fort Lyon didn’t begin until 1901. A company of approximately 100 men lived on Cow Island during World War I and again during World War II, but the fort never saw any direct military action. After World War II, the US Army sold Cow Island and what was left of Fort Lyon to a private landowner.
In 2000, Albert Glickman, the co-owner of Cow Island for approximately 20 years, announced that the island was for sale. Ted Regan, who founded Rippleffect with Aaron Frederick in 1999, immediately approached Glickman about their vision to turn Cow Island into a living classroom for Maine youth. Glickman was impressed and offered to give Rippleffect an exclusive 60-day option to purchase at a slightly lower sale price. The price was still too steep and it wasn’t until Maine Coast Heritage Trust stepped in and outright purchased Cow Island for$1.4 million that the way to Rippleffect ownership became clearer. MCHT, stipulating a permanent restrictive conservation easement, leased Cow Island to Rippleffect for 30 months, during which time Rippleffect was able to secure the remaining cost. Rippleffect purchased Cow Island outright from MCHT for $625,000 in January 2005, and the organization remains committed to keeping the island protected “forever for all.”
The Maine Coast Heritage Trust holds a conservation easement for 26-acre Cow Island which protects public access in perpetuity. This easement also limits the number and size of structures built on the island. All new structures have either been built on existing foundations or are temporary, and all structures are situated so that they cannot be seen from the waters of Casco Bay, thereby preserving the natural landscape. Rippleffect owns Cow Island thanks in part to the enormous generosity of MCHT, and we continue to work closely with them to ensure that Cow Island remains protected forever for all.