ACADIA NATIONAL PARK, Maine — Some residents of the Schoodic Peninsula aren’t happy about how the park is putting in two new parking lots at the Schoodic Education and Research Center.
The lots are part of a nearly $7 million renovation of the former Navy base at Schoodic Point that Acadia is converting into a multiuse education and science center. Programs such as the Schoodic International Sculpture Symposium, biodiversity blitzes, outdoor education overnight trips for school-age children and others consistent with the park’s mission have been held at the 100-acre site since the National Park Service took it over from the Navy in 2002.
The renovation includes demolition of more than a dozen buildings and the planned removal of several paved roadways. Park officials have said they want to make the Schoodic campus more pedestrian-friendly and to reduce light pollution by installing more night sky-friendly lighting.
But the removal of many trees to make way for two large parking lots has caught a concerned group of Schoodic-area residents off-guard. People have been walking at the publicly accessible site to see what progress is being made in campus renovation, and the removal of the trees earlier this week upset several of them.
That’s why Acadia Superintendent Sheridan Steele spoke to about two dozen people Wednesday afternoon at the Schoodic Education and Research Center’s Schooner Club. Steele told attendees that he and park officials should have done a better job of alerting them that it planned to remove the trees.
“We want to improve our communications and obviously need to improve our communication efforts,” Steele said. “We want your feedback. We consider it very important.”
Steele added that the project is not expected to bring more people to Schoodic Point than the Navy base did.
One parking lot will have 100 spaces and another will have 120, according to park officials. Jim Vekasi, head of the park’s maintenance division, said that the project is expected to result in a net reduction of 4 acres of impervious surfaces such as roofs, paved roadways and parking lots at the Schoodic site.
The area where the 100-space lot is going in near the Schooner Club had been the site of a couple of house trailers, Vekasi said. A 120-space lot being built next to Eliot Hall is replacing a former Navy building that has been removed.
Vekasi acknowledged that the current state of the project is not that attractive.
“It looks pretty raw right now,” Vekasi said. “That’s what got people going.”
Tom Mayer, a Schoodic Peninsula resident who founded the group Friends of Schoodic in 2002, was critical of the decision to clear trees to make room for parking. He said park officials have talked about building removals and renovations when they have spoken publicly about the campus renovation project, but they never said they would be cutting down hundreds and possibly thousands of trees.
Mayer said they could have done a better job of using existing cleared space at the site, such as a ball field and tennis court next to the Schooner Club, rather than cutting down swaths of trees.
“There never was one word said about taking down one tree,” Mayer said.
Roger Barto, a Winter Harbor resident and former town manager, said that many people who have supported and volunteered for the park’s Schoodic operations were blindsided by the tree removal. The sudden and unexpected removal of the trees has felt like a betrayal, he said.
“These are your ardent supporters, and they’ve been wounded severely,” Barto said.
Jay Horschak, a Gouldsboro resident, told Steele that the removal of the trees never could be rectified during his lifetime.
“I don’t think $1.5 million of landscaping will soothe my savage heart,” Horschak said, referring to the landscaping portion of the project’s nearly $7 million budget.
Phil Church, a Gouldsboro native who is Acadia’s head of maintenance at the Schoodic site, said the tree clearing involves only a small area of the park’s Schoodic section. Acadia owns 2,300 acres on the peninsula, including about 100 acres at the tip of the peninsula where the Schoodic Education and Research Center campus is located. Approximately 2 percent of that area is being affected by the project, he said. By renovating the former Navy site so it supports the park’s mission, he said, the park and its partners will be better equipped to attract the educational and artistic programs that residents have said they want at the Schoodic campus.
“There’s going to have to be some changes made to bring these activities here,” Church said. “We’ve got to keep it in perspective.”