Midcoast, Two Ways

Broker Joseph Sortwell underscores his region’s knack for sating both urban and rural
Words By Brian Shuff
Photos By Cait Bourgault

It’s a feeling-out process with each client,” says Joseph Sortwell, broker and principal at LandVest’s Camden outpost. “Some people come here for total privacy. Seclusion. They want a place out at the end of St. George Peninsula, or Cushing Peninsula. Other people want to wake up in the morning and be able to walk to a local coffee shop like the Owl & Turtle BookshopCafé or Zoot Coffee. And, of course, some want access to both. We do that too. Our job is to educate on the area and let people decide what works for them.”

As the region continues to grow, buyers’ choice between seclusion and amenities has become moot.

The area, as Joseph sees it, extends up as far as Belfast and down to Rockland, with Camden right near the center. “Over the last ten years, the whole midcoast has really transitioned into a vibrant year-round community,” says Joseph. “Tech has allowed younger people working remotely to bring their families up to mix with the retirees. It creates a nice balance, helps keep the place moving in the right direction—keeps it from going stale.”

Mount Megunticook Trail overlooking Camden Harbor.
Long Grain’s farm-to-table menu is inspired by the street food of Southeast Asia.

For the roll-out-of-bed-and-walk-to-a-coffee-shop crowd, cultural hotspots abound. “Rockland continues to evolve in its identity as an arts center in ways that are really beautiful and really interesting,” Joseph says. In addition to the region’s stalwarts—Center for Maine Contemporary Art (CMCA), The Farnsworth Art Museum, and The Strand Theatre—Joseph points to the revitalization of downtown. “There’s a great First Friday all summer,” he says. “The galleries stay open, and they shut down Main Street in July and August for walkers.” Performances by the Camden Shakespeare Festival also run summer-long. (This year they’re doing A Midsummer Night’s Dream and offering all-ages workshops on drawing more meaning and enjoyment from Shakespeare’s language.) In September, the Camden International Film Festival (CIFF) takes over venues all up and down the coast. As one of the top documentary film festivals in the world (non-fiction cinema, they call it), CIFF brings four days of screenings, filmmaker talkbacks, installations, pop-ups, and industry networking to the midcoast.

Cruising Camden Harbor aboard Mornings in Maine.

“The year-round culture has exploded the food scene as well,” Joseph says. “Way different from when I was growing up here in the 1980s. Now, even in the middle of winter, I can get a bowl of spicy night market soup.” He’s referring to Long Grain, a killer farm-to-table Thai kitchen from Ravin Nakjaroen and Paula Palakawong. Other favorites include Blue Barren Distillery, which produces small-batch gins made from local Maine botanicals. “They have a tasting room right on the water and a great burger,” Joseph says. Suzuki’s Sushi Bar is a never-fail sushi spot with curated sake flights and local pork gyoza steamed to order. And, of course, Primo, Melissa Kelly’s James Beard Foundation Award Winner, remains the area’s standard bearer. “There’s now an outside bar on weekends,” Joseph says. “In the afternoons they serve fried chicken sandwiches from a short menu. You can walk the gardens with a drink from the open-air bar. It’s incredible what Melissa’s done.”

A moment of quiet on the working waterfront in Port Clyde (photo by Jon Bilous).

For the country mice—or perhaps those migrating from city centers in search of solitude—Camden also has profound access to the state’s natural riches. “For me, that means spending as much time as possible on the water,” says Joseph. “Especially when the towns get crowded. My boat goes in mid-May and comes out early October. It’s a nice long season.” The Camden Yacht Club, operating out of Penobscot Bay, offers training to young sailors through the Camden Area Youth Seamanship Program (CAYSP). At Camden Hill State Park, miles of trails and waterways accommodate hiking, trail running, mountain biking, and kayaking for all skill levels. During winter, Camden Snow Bowl has the local family ski hill vibe down pat. (It’s also the only resort on the east coast with an ocean view.)

“We feel very fortunate for the efforts of the Maine Coast Heritage Trust and the Coastal Mountains Land Trust,” says Joseph. “Their conservation-forward approach has protected large parts of the region. With development everywhere these days, it’s comforting to know that certain places are preserved—that in twenty years, I’ll be able to hike Bald Mountain and look over and still see the Snow Bowl. There won’t be a house or a building there.” The same holds for on the water. The Maine Island Trail Association (MITA) has taken extraordinary steps to conserve Maine’s wild coastal islands. “When I get older,” Joseph says, “I can take my family out to those islands, and they will still be in their natural state.”

Joseph’s family first moved to Camden in 1979. His father, Terry, began work in real estate in the early ’90s. “I’ve been watching him work in this community my entire life,” Joseph says. “I understand the attention to detail and nuance required, the hard work that goes into it.” Add to that his vantage as a local. “I can explain the difference between Vinalhaven and North Haven to you,” he says. “And with that insider knowledge, hopefully I can help you make the best decision about where you want to live—be it near town, somewhere more private, or a middle ground. There’s no reason you can’t hike in the morning, then catch an indie screening at the Strand in the afternoon. Maybe walk up the street to Ada’s Kitchen after for some carbonara.”

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