Alumni of a heralded Down East field station that shut down seven years ago have banded together to reopen the property this spring as a nonprofit nature educational center.
The Center for Ecological Teaching and Learning will start its first season of educational programs next week after buying the Robert S. Friedman Field Station on the shores of Cobscook Bay from Suffolk University in 2020. The center, founded by a group of teachers and students who had previously studied at the field station, aims to promote responsible land stewardship and immersive ecosystem system learning.
“Our main mission was to protect the land,” said Coleen O’Connell, the nonprofit’s vice president. “Our second goal was to establish an education center so people of all ages could learn about ecology.”
For nearly 50 years, the university field station offered students and researchers across the country a place to study the biology and rugged beauty of Down East Maine. More than a dozen institutions and universities regularly used the 77-acre property in Edmunds township, next to Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge.
But in 2015, the Boston university decided to close the field station and put it on the market, as part of a sell off of a number of real estate holdings.
The thought of the station being scooped up by a developer was devastating to O’Connell, a professor at Lesley University in Massachusetts that annually rented the station for her ecological education masters students.
About three summers ago O’Connell and a group of alumni swapped campfire stories about their time at the station, and that’s when the idea to resurrect the field station began percolating.
Someone pulled up the real estate listing and the group formed a plan to buy the property. When they called the realtor, they were told to act fast because a developer was eyeing the waterfront parcel and the school was eager to get rid of it.
The group put in an offer of $225,000 and closed on the property in February 2020, just before the pandemic began in Maine and the real estate bonanza kicked off by COVID got underway.
Without advertising, the center already has a growing number of groups looking to use the facility. Local elementary school students will take a field trip to the center next week. Camping programs for families are planned for July and August and a number of schools have booked outings.
But to get the station fully back up and running will take time. When Suffolk decided to sell the property, it got rid of all kinds of equipment and furniture.
The college sold the station’s stove, sink, chairs, silverware, plates, library, cabins, water pump for the marine labs holding tanks, and solar panels. What’s left is a large dining hall, lab classrooms, a bathhouse, sundry shed, a handful of other cabins in various conditions, and the marine classroom, which is in rough shape after being left basically untouched for years.
After it pays off the land, the nonprofit will work to raise money to restore the station to its former glory. In the meantime, overnight visitors will likely have to camp.
Edmunds Consolidated School Principal Trudy Newcomb, who is bringing her students to the center to see the tidal pools at an extreme low tide next week, grew up just down the road from the field station and worked there as a dishwasher in college. She was excited to share a piece of her childhood with the next generation.
“We all have connections from the old field station,” she said. “It’s fun to see it reopening.”