Alison Richardson spent her first summer on Isle au Haut, off Stonington, when she was seven. Fast forward 26 years, the Augusta native is now in her ninth season as a seasonal ranger for Acadia National Park on the island.
“I am very attached to it, and I think that’s why I’ve never gone to any other national park. A lot of seasonal park rangers will travel and go to all kinds of parks, but I’m just specifically on Isle au Haut,” said Richardson, who is the lead ranger at Duck Harbor, a small park campground. “It is definitely its own kind of secret spot.”
Nestled six nautical miles off Stonington and linked by a mail boat, the highest island in Penobscot Bay was named by French explorer Samuel de Champlain. He also named Mount Desert Island, “Isle des Monts Déserts,” literally, island of desert mountains, on the same trip in the fall of 1604.
About half of Isle au Haut, or 2,700 acres, is in park ownership; the rest consists of a community with some 50 year-round residents.
The rugged island is home to five camping sites, each with a lean-to shelter, fire pit and a picnic table.
“It’s very remote and very quiet,” Richardson said of the campground located in the heart of Duck Harbor. “It’s right at the water.”
Over 18 miles of hiking trails criss-cross the island. The rugged and rocky paths wind along the shore, weave back among trees, lead to high cliffs with clear views of the horizon and take hikers to cobble beaches, salt marshes and bogs. There are paths that lead into town, and others that transport one right to the water.
In the peak summer months, the ferry that services Isle au Haut also stops at the dock, bringing campers and hikers right down to Duck Harbor.
But the rest of the year, it’s a four-mile walk from the landing to the campground on a dirt road that’s rough in spots. That walk can be a long trek for campers lugging their overnight gear, so typically they pack really light.
Reservations are taken by mail only. They cannot be postmarked before April 1.
The remoteness of the island and the fact that it has less than half a dozen camping sites is certainly a charm for adventure seekers, but for Richardson, it is also the close-knit community on the island that brings her back each year.
“I love the town and the community here. I’m just really lucky to be able to work for the park here and live here at the same time, it’s just a great opportunity,” she said. “Acadia National Park and the town have a really interesting and close relationship, so being here and being able to appreciate the town and the park is a nice link between the two.”