ROCKLAND, Maine — It will be a few years until a new wildlife visitor center will bustle with films and interactive exhibits, but the U.S. National Fish and Wildlife Service is preparing for a soft opening in May.
The 9,600-square-foot building on Main Street will be pretty barren for the next few months. It took a lot of money to clean up the white two-story building, which doesn’t leave much of a budget for exhibits, according to Beth Goettel, the refuge manager of Maine Coastal Island National Wildlife Refuge.
“We’re excited for the future; but it’s not here yet,” Goettel said.
Once the center opens, Goettel expects to attract birders, tourists looking for another attraction, and people who need a free public restroom. The center will feature research done on the islands within the wildlife refuge — one of the least-known of the federal preserves by the nature of their remoteness.
The downstairs part of the building will have a welcome center, a classroom, a room to screen movies, a store and three exhibit rooms that will focus on seabirds and Maine islands. Upstairs will be offices and a rotating art exhibit.
Goettel figures the island- and bird-focused center will fit in well with an area that already has lighthouse, art, maritime and transportation museums.
“We’re trying to appeal to a broad audience,” she said. “Anytime you have lots of attractions in one area, people tend to stay in town longer. Islands and lighthouses have a lot of cachet.”
“This has the potential to be the next Farnsworth, another anchor on Rockland Main Street,” said Dan Bookham, executive director of Penobscot Bay Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Local nonprofit Friends of Maine Seabird Islands helped raise money to buy the building. Now it’s working to raise money to expedite getting exhibits into the center. Goettel said even if she had all the money she needed, it would take about two years to build the exhibits.
“This is going to be a nice center to send people. It will act as a base where tourists and locals can come and learn about islands,” said Stephanie Martin, the programs coordinator for Friends of Maine Seabird Islands. “It’s hard for people to visit islands, but this will be a place to experience islands without getting on them. It will give them a sense of place.”
The Maine Coastal Island National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center will have a soft opening for the public on Saturday, May 12, which is World Migratory Bird Day.