Conversion of the old Navy radio station on Schoodic Point into a learning and research center is well under way. Acadia National Park Superintendent Sheridan Steele says 10 years of work are being compressed into two, and the job should be completed by June 2011.
Part of the urgency reflects a finding by the Kaiser Foundation that young people now spend nearly eight hours a day on electronic devices. That’s most of their waking time beyond their school hours. Mr. Steele wants to get them out of the house and into nature.
The Schoodic Education and Research center already is conducting programs including three-day, two-night visits by fifth- to eighth-graders called Schoodic Education Adventure. When the conversion is completed, school groups can come to the park from all over Maine and from the rest of the country for a Schoodic Point outing.
The Navy installation dated back to 1917 and was originally at Otter Cliffs, on otherwise undeveloped Ocean Drive. It operated radio and direction-finding service through both World Wars. Some thought it an eyesore, and John D. Rockefeller Jr., the philanthropist who put Acadia National Park together, arranged a swap in 1935. He got the Otter Cliffs site and built a new facility for the Navy on Schoodic Point with a handsome headquarters house much like his home in Seal Harbor.
This Rockefeller House, as it is called, is being renovated to serve as a welcome center and provide offices and lodging. Sixteen of the other Navy structures mostly have been razed, including the old barracks, dining hall, gymnasium and administration buildings. Schooner Commons is being improved as the primary food-service facility. The old bowling alley has been converted into a long bunkhouse for visiting elementary school students. Existing Navy cabins are available for other visitors
Acres of asphalt paving are being pulled out in a thorough landscaping, with a new traffic circulation pattern of roads and trails.
Total funds spent or committed so far come to $17 million to $18 million, including federal stimulus grants and $1 million donated by Edith Robb Dixon, widow of philanthropist Fitz Eugene Dixon and a summer resident of Winter Harbor, to update the Rockefeller House.
The remote peninsula tip, with its rocks often pummeled by crashing Atlantic Ocean waves and its entry road from Winter Harbor through thick spruce and pine forest, is a fascinating destination for visiting researchers and for students as an alternative to their computers, cell phones and music players.
For now, it remains an idyllic place to enjoy the wonders of nature.