Earlier this month, I traveled Down East to Schoodic Peninsula to explore the new hiking trails and bike paths in the Schoodic District of Acadia National Park, which is set to celebrate its centennial in 2016.
Acadia National Park was established as Sieur de Monts National Monument in 1916, which morphed into Lafayette National Park in 1919, the first such park in the eastern U.S. The park was renamed Acadia National Park in 1929, the same year the land on Schoodic Peninsula was acquired.
The national treasure that is Acadia has a lot to celebrate, especially at Schoodic, where the National Park Service soon will take ownership of an adjoining 1,400 acres, increasing the total area of this park unit to about 3,450 acres.
The conservation deal that led to the park expansion at Schoodic is the culmination of a complicated 10-year effort to protect from proposed development a large swath of land neighboring the park, according to John Kelly, management assistant with Acadia National Park.
“We’re quite excited,” Kelly said, “especially about the new infrastructure that was privately built over the last two years and donated to the park, which includes 4.7 miles of hiking trails, 8.3 miles of bike paths, a 94-site campground, ranger station, and day use parking area.”
The new Schoodic Woods complex, on the Schoodic Loop Road about a mile south of Route 186, is where the aforementioned infrastructure is either located or emanates from. My wife Fran and I loaded up our daypacks and struck off from here, intent on a 9.5-mile loop hike.
For much of its 1.1 miles, the new Lower Harbor Trail meanders through the woods along a narrow arm of Winter Harbor. Farther ahead and across the road, the Buck Cove Mountain Trail follows an undulating route through the wild heart of the property, 3.6 miles south to Schoodic Head. Connecting the two trails is a nearly mile-long stretch of crushed stone bike path, which, though narrower and often steep and curvy, reminded me of the carriage roads on Mount Desert Island.
Along the way we meandered through woodlands of rare jack pine, hardy survivors at the southeastern limit of their range, and impressive stands of maritime spruce and fir, with some thick-trunked, straight-as-an-arrow old soldiers that have to be a century in age.
The new trail system meets the existing network at the outlook atop 440-foot Schoodic Head, where there are fine views northwest to the village of Winter Harbor and beyond to the silhouetted peaks of Donnell Pond Public Reserved Land. Looking east past Spruce Point, the 123-foot tall Petit Manan Island Light, second highest on the Maine coast, is just visible from this vantage point.
The descent to the park road on the eastern side of the peninsula is short but steep and rugged. Reaching the pavement, we turned north along Schoodic Harbor, listening to the rhythmic waves washing over the beach cobbles.
We closed the loop of this grand late season walking tour via two more lovely miles on the new bike paths, meticulously signposted and numbered in familiar Acadia style.
“Schoodic is such a special place,” said Kelly, “mostly because of how it has not changed in 86 years, other than the Navy base that once operated here. Special for its isolation from the rest of the park, and the amount of protected shoreline; this place is forever locked in time.”
From 1935 to 2002, the Navy operated a radio communications station on Schoodic Point. The facility is now the Schoodic Research and Education Center, where the nonprofit Schoodic Institute works to promote understanding, protection and conservation of all of Acadia National Park.
The Institute will host the first half of the 10-day Acadia Winter Festival from Feb. 26 through March 1 (acadiawinterfestival.org). The family-friendly event will celebrate Acadia’s centennial, wintertime in Maine, and the wealth of natural and community resources that make the park so unique and valuable.