History of the Refuge


The southern Maine coast has been treasured for over 11,000 years. The Abenaki, Sokaki and Saco peoples established thriving cultures using the coastal rivers that provided fresh water, transportation routes, abundant fish, shellfish, and lowland wildlife. The French explorer Samuel de Champlain arrived in the region in 1604. Shortly thereafter and into the 1700’s, European settlers made their livelihood from the coast and adjacent marshes. They also pressed inland to clear land for development and to obtain lumber for the emerging shipbuilding business. In the 1800’s, southern Maine shipbuilding reached its height. Vessels up to 400 tons were manufactured in Kennebunkport, and locally-built schooners boosted trade. The fishing industry supported many people and commercial hunters made their living from the wildlife frequenting local marshes. Recreational use of the Maine Coast increased in the 19th and 20th Centuries. Interest and access were particularly spurred by the arrival of the railroad in 1842. Thousands of visitors came by train, trolley and later, automobile. Now, tourism and recreational activities rank highest in the area’s economy. Between 260,000 to 330,000 nature enthusiasts from all over the world visit the refuge annually.