Campers, bicyclists and hikers entered the gates of Acadia National Park’s new Schoodic Woods Campground for the first time on Sept. 1 to explore the new campsites and trails nestled in the mossy woods of Winter Harbor.
“It looks wonderful,” said Dave Reed, who grew up in Maine and in recent years has been traveling and camping between Maine and Florida with his wife, Jan, and their miniature dachshund, Cheeky. “We camp around a lot, so we’re a little critical of campground design, and this is extraordinarily good.”
The Reeds were among the first campers at Schoodic Woods on Sept. 1, registering just after noon for a spacious pull-around campsite on Loop A. There they hooked up their 27-foot camper, set out two chairs and rolled out a carpet beside the composite picnic table.
“A lot of times people [who] build the campgrounds don’t seem to really be in a ‘camper’s mode,’” Jan Reed said. “Here, the rules are very reasonable. The hookups are in a great place, it’s roomy and they’ve saved so much of the forest and flora.”
Conifer trees surrounded the campsite. And on the margins of the campground roads, wildflower and grass seeds already had been sewn and seedling trees buried in biodegradable containers.
“I think the real RVers are going to spot it,” Dave Reed said. “And once they see it, I think they’re gonna love it.”
Settled into their campsite, the Reeds were just getting ready to go for a walk. Along with the new campground, 8.5 miles of new biking paths and 4 miles of new hiking trails opened Tuesday.
“They’ve saved Schoodic Peninsula,” Dave Reed said. “You’ve got to give the park superintendent and the Department [of Interior] some credit for doing this. I’m really happy about this.”
While the soft opening for the campground and trails was Sept. 1, the grand opening celebration was set for 3 p.m. Sept. 2. Open to the public, the event includes a ribbon-cutting ceremony with remarks by U.S. Sen. Angus King, Acadia National Park Superintendent Sheridan Steele and Schoodic Institute President and CEO Mark Berry.
The campground opens for self-guided tours starting at 3:30 p.m., and the event concludes with a presentation about the Schoodic Institute at the new amphitheater at 4:30 p.m.
“It’s certainly going to be challenging,” John Kelly, public information officer for the park, said. “We haven’t opened a campground in 70 or 80 years.”
Acadia National Park is home to two other campgrounds: Blackwoods Campground and Seawall Campground on Mount Desert Island. Both campgrounds are on the National Register of Historic Places and were originally constructed by the Civil Conservation Corps in the 1930s.
The new Schoodic Woods Campground is located in the park’s only mainland division in Winter Harbor on a conservation easement that recently has been added to the park.
It’s opening is the culmination of a decade-long effort to protect a 3,200-acre tract of land on the peninsula, which has been threatened by the development of a resort, including a hotel, golf course, sports center and luxury villas, according to a recent news release issued by the National Park Service.
In 2011, Schoodic Woods LLC, a subsidiary of New Hampshire-based Lyme Timber, purchased the land. Over the past two years, the company constructed the campground along with a network of bike paths and hiking trails on the southern half of the property. The company then donated the 1,400 acres of the land — including the campground, bike paths and trails — as a conservation easement to the United States.
The land and the new facilities now will be operated and managed as a part of Acadia National Park.
“We heard about the campsite at Cindy’s Fish and Chips on Route 1 in Freeport — the owner told us about it,” Bridgette Bloss of Indiana, who was on road trip with her partner and daughter, said. “So we blasted over here, and I think we’ve got the best site.”
In a fairly secluded campsite of Loop B, the three erected a large tent, which they’d nicknamed “The Taj,” and were planning on following one of the new hiking trails to the ocean.
“I wanted them to experience this — the smell of the pines, the fresh air,” said her partner, Mike Whicker, the only one of them who had visited Maine before.
“This is really beautiful,” Bridgette Bloss said. “This park is going to be amazing when all the trees and grass grow in.”
The campground consists of 94 sites: 33 RV sites with water and power hook-ups, 50 drive-in tent sites with power hook-ups, nine hike-in sites and two group sites with a shared picnic shelter. Other visitor facilities at the campground include a ranger station, a 100-seat amphitheater and a 100-space day-use parking area.
“You can do a lot of things from the campgrounds in terms of hiking and biking,” Kelly said. “And the day-use parking area is something to take advantage of. People can park there and get on their bikes, go hiking or take the Island Explorer to see the park.”
The walk-in campsites will be open to campers next summer, Kelly said. For the remainder of this season, which lasts until Columbus Day, only a select number of the drive-in campsites on Loop A and B are available to the public on a first-come, first-serve basis. Next summer, people will be able to reserve sites online at the campground at recreation.gov, where Acadia’s Blackwoods and Seawall campgrounds also are listed.
“We hiked into a remote tentsite earlier, and they’re really nice,” said Loren Wright of Woolwich, who claimed a Schoodic Woods campsite on Loop B on Sept. 1. “Some of them have a great water view, and they have a nice square tent platform.”
Loren Wright was camping with her husband, John Wright, and dog, Bella, in their Mercedes-Benz camper van, which was complete with a full bath and refrigerator.
“We’re really roughing it,” she said, laughing. “Tonight we’re making chili.”
The couple booked the campsite until Friday and planned to attend the grand opening celebration Thursday.
Limited parking will be available at the campground for the grand opening celebration and campground tours on Sept. 2. The campground parking area is on Schoodic Loop Road, about 1 mile south of Route 186 in Winter Harbor. Satellite parking will be available at the Masonic Lodge and Winter Harbor Town Office on School Street in Winter Harbor. The Island Explorer will provide free, continuous shuttle service between the satellite parking and campground from 2:30 to 6:30 pm.
To learn about Acadia National Park and the new Schoodic Head Campground and biking and hiking trails, visit nps.gov/acad/ or call 288-3338.