History & Conservation Easement

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.”

More about the Conservation Easement

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.


Eco-Retreat and Facilities

Cow Island offers 26 acres of serene natural beauty in the middle of Casco Bay, Maine. Our island campus features:

Island Facilities:

  • Professional solar powered kitchen
  • Four composting toilets
  • Four large yurts and one canvas house tent on platforms
  • Heated and solar powered indoor and outdoor meeting space
  • 30′ x 40′ outdoor deck
  • Historic Spanish American war era battlements
  • Private dock and deepwater moorings
  • Tables, chairs, serving and flatware for 150 people
  • 200 person event tent
  • 50 person event tent
  • Public camping area
  • Opportunity and Endeavour – our aluminum work boats

Island Adventure:

  • Fleet of 70 sea kayaks and gear
  • 400′ zip line
  • Climbing tower
  • Low and high challenge course elements
  • Island Sustainability:
  • Organic garden, managed by students, staff and volunteers
  • 1.5 mile graded trail system
  • Large fields and secluded open spaces
  • Rainwater catchment systems
  • Private coves with sandy beaches

Island Sustainability:

  • Organic garden, managed by students, staff and volunteers
  • 1.5 mile graded trail system
  • Large fields and secluded open spaces
  • Rainwater catchment systems
  • Private coves with sandy beaches

Public Use

Cow Island’s western shore is open to the public at all times, although visitors are requested to register with the Rippleffect office.  If you are planning to stay overnight, we require that you register your party and read our general use policy prior to visiting. Keep in mind that our dock is private and is for the express use of Rippleffect’s vessels. You are welcome to pull your vessel up on the western shore or anchor out.

Considerations / Restrictions:

Strong currents and ocean swells exist in nearby Hussey Sound. Visitors should be mindful of ticks on Cow as well as poison ivy, which is common near the public campsites and western trails. Camping is permitted at any of the designated sites on the western side of the island. The coves near the shipwrecked lobster boat offer the best options for landing and access. Larger boats can anchor amidst the private moorings on the west side. Except in emergencies, use of the dock is prohibited. Use established trails and stairways to help preserve delicate plants. During your stay, please confine your exploration to the west side. Programming is in progress from March to November each year. Cow Island is located on the Maine Island Trail. Please sign in to MITA’s guidebook (located in the public kiosk) and let us know about your stay.

Both Rippleffect and the Maine Coast Heritage Trust request that you follow all posted guidelines and leave Cow Island better than you found it. Your cooperation is appreciated.

We hope your visit to Cow Island is safe and enjoyable. Please help us keep this island beautiful and clean for all to enjoy!

Cow Island General Use Policy:

Please click here for a printable version of our general use policy and detailed map of Cow Island.

Cow Island is governed under a comprehensive conservation easement through the Maine Coast Heritage Trust. This legal document prohibits the destruction of plant life, harassment of animals and the outward alteration of the historic structures. Please help us to keep our promises and abide by these guidelines.

  • Alcohol/Drug Policy: Rippleffect serves youth and adults with high quality adventure programs on Cow Island. The overindulgence of alcohol or any other drug is at odds with the spirit and purpose of our use of the island. Please use your best judgment when choosing to use these substances if you are of legal age. Bear in mind that illegal drug use is not tolerated and any evidence of this type of activity will be reported to the authorities.
  • Camping: Overnight use of the campsites on the public side of the island requires registration with Rippleffect. Call Rippleffect at 207.791.7870 or email info@rippleffect.net to hold your spot and to learn about our camping policies. Please plan to register at least 7 days in advance of your projected overnight camping.
  • Campsite Location: Three designated campsites are on the western side of Cow Island. The best access to the island is on the northwest side. The campsites are small and cannot accommodate more than four people per site.
  • Toilet facilities may be used. Comfortable, clean and odorless composting toilets exist in the middle of the island and off the SW side of Cow. Toilet access is clearly marked with signs.
  • Fires are by permit only on Cow Island. Obtain fire permit through the town of Long Island, 207-766-5820. Fires are only permitted at designated public campsites in pre-established fire rings. Please prepare to bring your own wood for fuel. Do not destroy trees or shrubbery and please leave standing dead wood where it is! All fires must be extinguished with water, no later than 12:00 am.
  • As a former military base, Cow Island has many identified and unidentified hazards, not the least of which are sharp objects (metal and glass) on the ground. Closed-toed shoes are highly recommended while on the interior of the island. Please be mindful that beaches may also be sites where these objects appear!
  • Program-related facilities are not for public use.
  • Fresh water is not available. Please bring as much fresh water as your group will require for the duration of your stay on Cow Island.
  • Poison ivy does exist on the island, so please be careful when exploring. Ticks do live on Cow Island. Careful observation is your best weapon. Long pants help. More information on poison ivy.
  • Pets are not allowed on the island.
  • Ledges and drop offs: Cow Island’s military installation was originally built to defend against military attack. Dangerous drop offs and difficult pitches exist. Please be careful when walking at night.