WINTER HARBOR — Every fall at the Schoodic Education and Resource Center, Park Ranger Kate Petrie gets a first-hand glimpse at how large and sometimes isolating a state like Maine can be. Her program, the Schoodic Education Adventure Program, brings in students from all over the state to work with ocean ecology for a three-night or four-night program. One of her favorite moments each year is watching some Mainers see the coastline for the first time.  

“Every year, we get kids who have never seen the ocean. They’re Mainers and they’ve never seen the ocean,” Petrie said. “It blows my mind.”

In April, Maine’s congressional delegation lauded the news that Acadia National Park had been awarded a $25,000 grant to continue its work with schoolchildren at the Schoodic Education and Research Center. The money, awarded by L.L. Bean and the National Park Foundation, will be used to fund positions for Petrie’s program. The grant money is integral for continuing to bring between 600 and 850 students from across Maine each year, she said.

“I couldn’t do the program without it,” Petrie said.

The Schoodic Education Adventure Program is just one of many that occur year-round in the $20 million center.

High school teachers throughout the country come to the park to be certified to teach Advanced Placement classes, for example. Also, in the fall and spring, biologists track the migration of birds to and from the Gulf of Maine. The 250-bed center and apartment complex even is home to an artists-in-residence program.

It’s all part of efforts to bring community members and scientists together at the park to create and learn, said Michael Soukup, president for the Schoodic Education and Research Center Institute, an organization which runs the center in cooperation with Acadia National Park. 

“We’re anxious to have a community here doing interesting things,” Soukup said. 

Since efforts began in 2002 to reclaim the 80-acre campus from the abandoned naval station, the center has become a prominent part of the National Park system’s education and research network. The facility recently won high praise in a report written by a team of New England scientists who regularly come here for a “bioblitz,” or a 24-hour effort to catalogue as many types of flora and fauna possible.

The facility has undergone a dramatic metamorphosis over the last decade, said Charlene Donahue, an entomologist with the Maine Forest Service. The bioblitz was one of the first activities to take place at the center after it was handed over to the park service; it was an ideal locale to study Maine’s ecology, but the facilities were rudimentary, she said. Scientists had to bring their own lab equipment, bedding and power strips. There also was no air conditioning, which was especially tricky for etymologists.

“It would get really hot in there, but you couldn’t open a window because all your bugs would blow away,” Donahue laughed. 

Now the facility is fully-equipped with a laboratory, food service, bedding and, thankfully, air-conditioning.

The renovation isn’t complete yet, either. This July, park officials will rededicate the center’s Rockefeller Hall, which will be used for administrative offices and exhibits. The facilities have become just as much an attraction for researchers as the one-of-a-kind ecology found on the Schoodic Peninsula.

“It gives us the space to really focus on what we’re doing and not have to worry about anything else,” she said.