If all goes according to plan, the Schoodic Woods campground development near Winter Harbor will open to the public in late summer. The facility is being built by Schoodic Woods LLC – a partnership of Lyme Timber Co. and a private family foundation. Scheduled to open on Sept. 4, the campground will be operated by the National Park Service.
The improvements, in addition to the nearly 100-site campground, include 8.5 miles of 11-foot-wide, multiuse trails for bicyclists and pedestrians linking the east and west sides of the park loop road. All have been built in attractive, rugged, national park style.
Acadia Superintendent Sheridan Steele recently expressed his hope to include the campground and some 1,600 acres of a 3,200-acre tract once owned by the Modena family of Milan, Italy, as a permanent part of the park, placing the tract within the park’s boundary.
Modena representatives had talked publicly about turning the property abutting Acadia’s current holdings on the Schoodic Peninsula into an exclusive eco resort for jet-setters with hotels, villas, pools and a golf course. Fortunately, in 2011, Lyme Timber of Hanover, N.H., purchased all of the land from the Modenas. Lyme Timber then sold conservation easements to Maine Coast Heritage Trust for land deemed critical to preserving wildlife in the area, particularly avian migratory paths. Should the campground and surrounding lands, in turn, become part of the park, Lyme Timber is expected to retain ownership of the 1,600 acres of land on the north side of the road.
According to Steele, the government has a legal avenue for accepting the gift of the land, even though the so-called Acadia National Park Master Plan legislation passed by Congress in 1986 ostensibly set the park’s boundary, once and for all.
Former U.S. Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, now a seasonal resident of Seal Harbor, was largely responsible for the successful negotiation of the Master Plan. Mitchell often jokes in public that his years of negotiating that deal among half a dozen towns, various levels of state, county and local government, and conservation groups, was the perfect training ground for honing the skills he later used to help bring peace to warring factions in Northern Ireland.
Along with a definitive list of every parcel slated for addition or deletion, that Master Plan also contained a generous provision for the acceptance of conservation easements east of the Penobscot River ship channel. All parcels set for acquisition had to be transferred on a willing seller-willing buyer basis. Eminent domain could be used only if adverse development loomed. The primary aim of the legislation was the limitation of unfettered application of eminent domain, which had frustrated so many private landowners out West.
Using Master Plan standards, the lands at Schoodic, while not specifically listed, appear to meet the criteria for acquisition. Adverse development was a possibility. Whether or not the Modena’s pie-in-the-sky plan would have come to fruition, or was designed from the start to be a form of “greenmail” aimed at spurring conservation groups to buy the parcel, makes no difference. That threat had to be taken seriously.
The Schoodic property and its improvements are being offered freely by the landowner. Those involved have spared no expense to assure that the facilities and changes to property are built exactly to National Park standards.
There is no need for eminent domain.
The original Acadia Master Plan, finalized nearly 30 years ago, was based on the economic and political realities of the preceding decade. Nobody at that time could have foreseen the types of growth pressures and massive challenges in the form of unfettered development on the fringes of Acadia as have occurred in some areas of Mount Desert Island.
Over the past four decades, a greater understanding of the need to include entire ecosystems and ranges in conservation efforts has developed. We now realize that it takes more than a few isolated islands of protected land to ensure that wildlife has sufficient room to thrive and that forest ecosystems have an adequate critical mass of terrain to flourish.
The proposed gifting seems such a sensible and welcome solution that contravention of the original intent of the Master Plan bill should be a non-issue. We agree with Steele that the current lands at Schoodic should be included within the permanent boundary of Acadia, bringing with it all the legal and environmental protections provided by that inclusion.