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Experience serenity during a summer’s evening at Fort Point

Posted June 20, 2012, at 2:22 p.m.
On a perfect summer's evening, visitors at Fort Point State Park in Stockton Springs often experience solitude where Fort Point Light guards the entrance to the Penobscot River.
On a perfect summer's evening, visitors at Fort Point State Park in Stockton Springs often experience solitude where Fort Point Light guards the entrance to the Penobscot River.

STOCKTON SPRINGS — Imagine having a lighthouse to yourself on a beautiful summer evening.

That could happen at Fort Point State Park, located four miles from busy Route 1 in Stockton Springs.

Straddling Fort Point, a heavily wooded peninsula that juts into the Penobscot River’s deep-water channel from Cape Jellison, the park lies off the beaten path and, despite good saltwater access, attracts fewer visitors than it should. The park remains a hidden gem on upper Penobscot Bay.

That’s why on a quiet summer evening when even a calm Penobscot River reflects the clear sky, visitors might have the grounds around Fort Point Lighthouse to themselves. That doesn’t happen on similar evenings at Portland Head Lighthouse in Cape Elizabeth.

Automated in 1988, the 31-foot brick tower and its adjoining lightkeeper’s cottage date to 1857. Despite its diminutive stature — Petit Manan Lighthouse off Steuben soars 119 feet — Fort Point Light commands a soaring position on a bluff above the Penobscot River. The deep-white channel lies between the bluff and a red channel marker a short distance offshore.

The Maine Department of Conservation owns the tower and cottage, maintained as a residence for park personnel. Visitors can access the grounds, including the historic bell tower and a secluded bench overlooking the river and distant Castine, for a nominal fee paid either at the park’s main entrance or at the rear entrance off Lighthouse Road.

From Route 1 in Stockton Springs, turn onto Main Street and follow the signs to Fort Point State Park. The main entrance lies on East Cape Road; turn here to reach the parking lots and the numerous picnic tables scattered among the trees. Trails wind across the park; visitors can wander onto the pier jutting north into Fort Point Cove or walk along the shore at Fort Point’s eastern tip.

One trail leads past the ruins of Fort Pownal, built in 1759 by colonial troops to deny French ships access to the Penobscot River. The fort’s foundation stones and moat remain visible; the trail crosses the moat’s southern section and steers visitors toward the lighthouse.

Visitors seeking only the lighthouse can drive past the park’s main entrance and turn left at Lighthouse Road, which parallels the shoreline before ending at a cul de sac just before the lighthouse. Use either the gravel or paved parking lots.

A sign identifies the site as Fort Point State Park; visitors pay the admission fee at an unmanned station. Visitors can walk around the lighthouse, relax on the bench partially concealed by the surrounding trees, or spread a blanket on the lawn near the bell tower and enjoy a picnic. In fact, there’s another bench by the tower.

Here along the bluff, the views extend east toward the Castine and Orland shores and south (downriver) toward Islesboro. Seabirds (especially ducks) might appear on the river; eagles and osprey nesting upriver along the Prospect and Verona bluffs might soar past while seeking food.

Osprey announce their presence with a “kee-kee” cry. If an osprey appears — notice the white belly that a bald eagle lacks — watch it in action; upon spotting a fish, an osprey may briefly hover by flapping its wings, then plunge with extended talons to snatch the meal from the water. Osprey often miss, but a successful strike sees an adult bird flying nest-bound with a large fish dangling beneath its body.

On perfect evenings, visitors come and go around Fort Point Lighthouse, but few people linger to savor the beauty and the views. To enjoy a quaint Maine lighthouse in an uncrowded setting, stop by Fort Point this summer, sit back, and watch the world go by.

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