ELLSWORTH, Maine — It’s easy to drive past the Birdsacre Stanwood Wildlife Sanctuary and not realize what’s there.
Part injured bird refuge, part nature walk and part history museum, Birdsacre is not easily defined, but for decades the 200 acres of protected land has offered serenity amid the steady growth of retail development all around it.
It’s like the Central Park of Ellsworth, said Stan Richmond, the sanctuary’s steward for nearly 30 years.
“This is meant to be a place of substance, a place of reflection, a place where people can just slow down for a while,” he said.
On Saturday and Sunday, hundreds of people flowed in and out of Birdsacre to celebrate its 50th anniversary with tours, music, food and exhibits. Visitors also had a chance to understand the spirit behind Birdsacre by understanding the sanctuary’s muse, Cordelia J. Stanwood.
“I think people used to think of her as the crazy old bird lady on Beckwith Hill,” said Diane Richmond Castle, Richmond’s sister. “And she was certainly eccentric.”
Stanwood also was a respected naturalist, ornithologist, photographer and writer of the early to mid-20th century. She may not rank with the likes of Henry David Thoreau or Rachel Carson, but the Ellsworth native lived most of her life and did most of her research on the property that now houses Birdsacre.
“Cordie found solace in these woods. I think she would have been pleased that it remains here for others to enjoy,” Castle said.
Both Castle and Richmond have given up parts of themselves to ensure the solvency of Birdsacre, although the siblings have a vested interest. Their father, Chandler Richmond, took an interest in Stanwood in the later part of her life and founded the sanctuary in 1959, one year after her death.
Chandler Richmond learned of Stanwood’s research after joining a bird-watching club in the 1950s. When Stanwood died at age 93, Richmond — with the help of some generous financial backers — purchased her property. Originally 40 acres, the sanctuary has grown to 200 acres, complete with a nature center, a raised board-walk, several nature trails and enclosures where injured birds are nursed back to health.
Little pieces of Stanwood are all around. Excerpts from some of her writing have been printed and hung on trees. Her 19th century homestead has been preserved as a natural history museum. Her photographs hang in the nature center.
Now others can enjoy the same tranquility Stanwood did.
Tracy Young and Tim Beaulieu, members of the Eastern Maine Camera Club, visited Birdsacre on Saturday.
“We’re always looking for new places to go and photograph,” Young said. “This has so many possibilities.”
Birdsacre is Stanwood’s legacy, but the fuel that keeps it running is the Richmond family, along with help from numerous other volunteers. Thousands of donated hours and some generous gifts through the years have allowed the sanctuary to expand and update while remaining free to visitors.
“We’re limited in our capabilities,” Richmond said. “But it’s not meant to be this commercial attraction. I’ve built bird cages from old scrap wood.”
On Saturday, a great horned owl with one eye perched on a limb in one of those cages. In a fenced enclosure, a goose methodically cleaned its feathers while its comrades splashed in a makeshift pond.
Inside the nature center, dozens of bird eggs are preserved in glass cases, from pearl-sized hummingbird eggs to loon eggs the size of a fist.
Richmond wondered whether Birdsacre could survive another 50 years.
“I froth at the mouth periodically about all the changes that have happened around us,” he said, referring to retail growth and more recent changes in the traffic pattern on Route 3, where Birdsacre sits. “But we’re proud of what’s here.”
For information about Birdsacre, visit www.birdsacre.com