Acadia officials outline plans for Schoodic site

Posted Aug. 22, 2010, at 6:11 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 12:07 p.m.

ACADIA NATIONAL PARK, Maine — Less impervious surface, night-sky-friendly lighting, a more pedestrian-friendly campus, and programs that can attract hundreds of visitors at a time to the park are all goals for a renovation project at the former Navy base at Schoodic Point, according to park officials.

Another big target of the project is completing the $18 million renovation of the Schoodic Education and Research Center by next summer, Acadia officials said this past week.

At the United Methodist Church in Prospect Harbor last Monday, a handful of Acadia officials met with roughly three dozen residents of the Schoodic Peninsula to discuss Acadia’s plans to renovate the former Navy base and to get feedback about those plans.

What Acadia officials had thought they might accomplish over a decade had to be crammed into an 18-month period because of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, they said. As a result, there is a lot of work going on now that might be less noticeable if it were spread out over a longer period of time.

“That really put us into overdrive,” Jim Vekasi, the park’s head of maintenance, said at the meeting. “All this [renovation project] money has stayed in Maine.”

Some area residents have voiced concern about the project, saying that park officials should not have removed as many trees as they did to reconfigure roads and parking areas.

Sheridan Steele, Acadia’s superintendent, said last week that the park has removed more than just trees. It also is reducing the amount of developed structures on the campus.

“We’ve removed 15 buildings. We’ve removed a lot of excess asphalt,” Steele said. “We’re adding [night-sky-friendly] lighting, new walking paths and signage.”

Sam Coplon, a Bar Harbor landscape architect hired by the park to help redesign the campus, said that 1.8 acres of trees are being removed, but that 2.8 acres of the campus are being relandscaped. Combined with the removal of buildings and the reduction in paved roadways, there will be a net gain of several acres of natural surface.

This includes a “vast expanse” of asphalt that had been located east of the Rockefeller Building but is being replaced by a meadow of grasses, he said.

“All that asphalt is gone,” Coplon said.

Steele said that while some roads and parking lots are being removed, others are being moved to the periphery of the campus, which is why some trees have been cut down. The goal, he said, is to create more unbroken green space in the middle of the campus, where people can walk, and to discourage people from driving around between buildings once they arrive.

“Long term, we think we’re going to have a healthier, safer campus,” he said.

Utility costs and other expenses also were a concern. Vekasi said that Acadia first planned to preserve the former barracks building and use it for housing, but the projected expense of heating, lighting and bringing the building up to civilian safety codes proved to be too great.

“It died of its own weight,” Vekasi said of the idea of renovating the barracks, which have since been removed.

The goal of making the Schoodic Education and Research Center program a success has yet to be met, according to park officials. The program is unique in that most learning centers located at other national parks consist of one or two buildings, while the Acadia campus has more than a dozen.

“It’s got to pay for itself,” Steele said. “We’re putting in close to $1 million a year [into SERC programs] now.”

Steele said Acadia officials will have to find ways to consistently fill the 200 beds they expect to have on campus. Acadia already hosts hundreds of elementary school students at the Schoodic campus every year and is looking to expand its art, citizen science, and higher education and research programs, he said.

Besides bringing schoolchildren to Acadia, the center has held nine bioblitzes in which scientists and volunteers document certain species in the Schoodic section of the park, and so far has held two Schoodic International Sculpture Symposiums, which are held every two years. The center’s programs have been supported by grants from L.L. Bean, Friends of Acadia and other benefactors, but the park will need ongoing help from other donors, educational and nonprofit partners and volunteers to make the center a viable operation year after year, according to Steele.

“How do we make this work?” the superintendent asked. “This is the challenge we face here.”

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