Ogunquit’s Marginal Way


At the annual meeting of 1923, a vote of thanks was given to Josiah Chase for the “gift” which he had given to the village of Ogunquit. This gift of the “Marginal Way”, a mile-plus walkway along the rocky cliff, is probably the finest gift this village has ever received.
Beginning in a corner of Oarweed Cove near the harbor, the now paved footpath meanders through bayberry and bittersweet bushes, gnarled shrubs of fragrant pink and white sea roses, shaded alcoves formed by wind-twisted trees which jut slightly out onto granite outcropping, and expansive views of the Atlantic with all its varying seasonal moods. There is no better place to unwind and be overwhelmed by the immensity and vastness of nature, then come away feeling humbled and contented yet remarkably uplifted and refreshed. This precious piece of natural beauty had for decades been called “the margin” because of its patterned development along the edge of the cliff. Ironically the present day footpath was not the result of an enlightened citizenry or of far-sighted conservation planning, but of the dealings of a shrewd businessman and some stubborn, persuasive “locals”.
In 1884, Josiah Chase retired from his Portland, Maine law firm and returned to the family home in York. He decided to dabble in real estate development and purchased a twenty-acre strip of land extending “…from Perkins Cove to Israel Head…” to be the heart of his planned subdivision. Chase designated “the margin” area as common ground for this large investment, knowing that ocean access for all future residences would greatly increase the value of the lots. Meanwhile, a rare coalition of year ‘round residents, fishermen, artists and devoted summer visitors, led by Ogunquit’s feisty, unofficial “mayor”, F. Raymond Brewster, after watching with apprehension what was happening to oceanfront in surrounding towns, began lobbying the State and badgering the very frugal Mr. Chase to preserve the walkway.
What led Chase to give in is anyone’s guess; perhaps a combination of economic self-interest, land conservation and just plain en-masse bullying. Whatever the incentives, these efforts eventually paid off and Josiah Chase, just three years before his death at age 85, ceded the magnificent Marginal Way to the community. Town officials then used Mr. Chase’s extreme generosity as a “shining example” when approaching other shorefront owners. More land was added through grants, eminent domain and the voluntary granting of needed bits of private property along the path by conscientious owners. Untold time and effort was expended to beautify and restore this lovely asset; the path is now owned completely by the town. Many eyes were opened by the devotion and appreciation shown this narrow strip by artists and visitors who to this day cherish it for the magnificent treasure it is, more so because of its apparent ability to survive hurricanes, development booms and municipal shortfalls.
Although the way is gentle with easy bends and inclines, most walkers prefer to stop for an exhilarating or contemplative rest at one of the thirty benches that dot the footpath. Strategically placed at various intervals, these memorial benches give the Marginal Way its well-deserved sense of reverence, for on the backs of them are small plaques dedicated to people who have loved and cherished this small piece of paradise.
For more than 100 years, people have strolled along these granite cliffs drinking in the spectacle of sea, surf and sky, animated by the roiling Atlantic and punctuated by screeching gulls. At low water, the tide pools captured by the rocks teem with starfish, small crabs and sea urchins, only to be swept away again by the crashing waves returning to claim their territory. Walkers stand mesmerized by the panorama before them, while others busily investigate the flora and fauna that beckon the curious.
After the path was heavily damaged by the 1991 “no-name” October storm, the Volunteer Committee to Restore the Marginal Way was formed. It petitioned the public for $35,000 to replace 11 benches that were destroyed and to repair the boulder-pummeled gouges in the footpath. The committee received more than $105,000, much of it from fewer than one hundred donors who sent large amounts to help with the restoration and ensure that a fund was available for future maintenance.
Each year more than 100,000 people walk this “Marginal Way” along the rugged cliff line, and while Maine has several somewhat similar ocean walkways, this is unquestionably the most unique, the most popular, the most painted and the most beloved.


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