CALAIS, Maine — Trees were felled and brush cleared Tuesday as groundbreaking began for a new ranger station and welcoming center at the Saint Croix International Historic Site.
A park located in the Calais area known as Red Beach, Saint Croix was one of the first known European settlements in North America, when Samuel de Champlain and Pierre Dugua sailed from France to create a settlement on the island in 1604.
“Our site is really about the meeting of two worlds — the Native Americans and the French,” said Ranger Meg Scheid on Tuesday.
To honor that meeting, a large white ash tree that was cut down to allow for the station’s construction, was given to the local Passamaquoddy Tribe for use in their cultural arts, such as basket making.
The station will be at the entrance to the park, which was proclaimed a national monument in 1949, and will replace offices in the historic McGlashan-Nickerson house, adjacent to the park entrance.
Scheid said the house has been used since 2000 as temporary office space and housing for two seasonal summer employees.
“It is not handicapped-accessible, and there is limited parking,” she said.
The new station will be a four-season, wheelchair-accessible visitor center. It will include administrative offices, a reception counter, exhibit space, restrooms, water fountains and an outdoor education area. Seasonal housing will be on the second floor of the building.
Scheid said the contract for the project was awarded to CMC Maintenance of Bangor, and all subcontractors are local companies and services. Throughout the excavation for the building’s foundation, an archaeologist will be on-site because of the historic importance of the location.
Construction should be complete by August.
The McGlashan-Nickerson house, built in 1883 and on the National Register of Historic Places, will be stabilized and leased to an interest compatible to the park, Scheid said.
“Statues along the park’s interpretive trail will be uncovered this week, and park operations will continue as normal throughout the construction period,” Scheid said.
The new station is part of an overall facilities plan developed a year ago by the U.S. Department of the Interior and the National Park Service, with local input.
The plan includes the ranger station and a maintenance facility to “improve visitor services, conserve resources, and make park operations more efficient.”
The Saint Croix site contains an orchard, a boat launch, an interpretive trail with a series of life-size sculptures depicting the site’s history, a shelter, a viewing area and restroom facilities.
A partner site, established in 1997 by Parks Canada, at Bayside, New Brunswick, on the opposite side of the river from Calais, also contains a self-guiding interpretive trail.