A Ride on the Wild Quiet Side: Exploring Acadia’s Schoodic Peninsula

Schoodic Peninsula is one of those out-of-the way Maine destinations that provokes conflicting emotions: I want to share its beauty, but also hope it remains off the well-beaten path.

On the warm September day that we visited the Schoodic Peninsula, the ocean was calm.  But often Schoodic is a quiet wild place  — quiet, in that it receives far fewer visitors than the rest of Acadia National Park — but wild with surf that pounds and crashes on its rocky shores.

The one-way road that hugs the peninsula for about six miles, with its promise of continuous and dramatic ocean vistas, had been calling out to me for several years on my map of Acadia National Park.  The lightly-traveled road is known for great biking.

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Although Schoodic Peninsula is easily accessed by road, we took the ferry out of Bar Harbor to enjoy the beautiful ride across Frenchman’s Bay. Here, leaving Bar Harbor, with Champlain and Cadillac Mountains in the background

In a small way, the ferry offered an opportunity to time travel, to arrive at Schoodic the way people did for a large chunk of its human history — by canoe and then European-style shallop sloops, in the case of the Abenaki, or by schooners and other vessels, in the case of the small population of 18th and 19th century pioneers who  came to this remote peninsula to work the land and the sea.

Before heading out on the Loop Road, we rode into the village of Winter Harbor to fuel up on breakfast goodies  and coffee at the Raven's Nest.

Before heading out on the Loop Road, we rode into the village of Winter Harbor to fuel up on breakfast goodies and coffee at the Raven’s Nest.

After the hour-long ferry ride, we bicycled the mile or so into Winter Harbor to get the lay of the land, then headed out on Route 186 to Moore Road,  where the ride to Schoodic Head begins. The road begins as a two-way route but changes to one-way about three miles in, at the Frazer Point picnic area.

Moore Road is named for John G. Moore, a Mainer from nearby Steuben who made a fortune on Wall Street financier and bought up much of Schoodic Point in the 1890s. In 1929, his heirs donated the land that eventually would become part of Acadia National Park.

A new campground, Schoodic Woods, recently opened here and the Park Service has just completed a network bicycle trails that begin on Moore Road and lace through the Schoodic Woods.  The trails piqued our interest, but today we were here for the vistas, and continued on towards the Point.

The ride did not disappoint.  Although Moore Road begins with a gentle uphill climb, the riding is mostly smooth sailing, especially once the road becomes one-way — easily do-able for recreational bikers, including kids.  About three miles in on the one-way stretch, we turned off onto the two-way road to Schoodic Point.

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At Schoodic Point, with Mount Desert Island’s Cadillac Mountain in the background. I was so busy absorbing the deep blues of the ocean and the striations of the rocks that I forgot to take lots of pictures. Suffice to say that this photo is one of many scenic vistas along the ride

Legend suggests that more than a few people have lost their lives at Schoodic Point to rogue waves.  However, I haven’t found any specifics about such fatalities, so they may be more myth than reality. (In 2007, a Michigan woman drowned while swimming off Schoodic Point — an activity I would not recommend – but she was not swept from the rocky headland by a rogue wave).

Interestingly, according to historian Allen K. Workman, the first known “English” inhabitant was a black man (identified as “mulatto” in the 1790 census) named Thomas Frazer, who came to Schoodic with his wife and seven children and built a homestead before the Revolutionary War at Frazer Point.  I wonder what pulled Frazer to this remote region — the opportunity of the sea, or the desire to get some distance from the racism and bigotry common in more populated regions?

Later settlers followed, and then a small population of wealthy summer rusticators, but for 60-plus years in the 20th century, the main inhabitants of Schoodic Point were a transient group — the officers and enlisted men and women of the U.S. Navy (and their families), who lived at a small but strategically important radio signal station base that was decommissioned in 2002. For 67 years (since 1935), up to 774 Navy personnel (at its WW II peak) were stationed here, doing specialized work in signals intelligence and cryptology.  Its closing dealt quite a blow to the fragile economy of Downeast Maine.

Today, the former signal station is home to the Schoodic Institute, a non-profit research, education, and arts center supported (at least initially) through various grant programs from the Navy, other government agencies, and Acadia National Park.

Rockefeller's architect built this hall which became quarters for Navy officers. Today, the main floor hosts exhibits and visiting researchers and artists stay in the upper floor apartments.

Grosvenor Atterbury, John D. Rockefeller Jr. ‘s architect who designed the carriage road buildings on Mount Desert Island, also designed this hall at  the Navy signal station.  The so-called Rockefeller Building became quarters for Navy officers. Today, the main floor hosts exhibits and visiting researchers and artists stay in the upper floor apartments.

 

We biked through the grounds of the Institute — about 180 acres, including a new auditorium, a dining hall, dorms, town houses, and recreational facilities.  The grounds were very quiet.  And probably expensive to maintain.  One wonders what will become of this facility.

Continuing on past numerous breath-taking vistas, we eventually landed in Birch Harbor, where we took a lunch break at the Pickled Wrinkle, drawn by its quirky name and a hand-posted recommendation inside the ferry cabin.  The view here is of the parking lot and a gas station across the street, but after our miles of ocean views, we were okay with that, especially because the food, much of it locally-sourced, was great.

After lunch, we finished up our 12-mile loop with a turn back on to Route 186 into Winter Harbor, where we explored the small collection of shops and galleries, and picked up iced coffee at the Raven’s Nest.  The restaurant is named for a dramatic crevice on the peninsula that we didn’t see on our ride, but will find another day.

As we motored back to Bar Harbor on the ferry, we enjoyed close-up views of the islands surrounding Winter Harbor and the peaks of Champlain and Cadillac Mountains. I tried to live in that moment.  But I had discovered the Schoodic Peninsula and already was planning my next visit.

Sources and resources

Acadia National Park’s official page offers a good starting point for additional information on Schoodic Point, including a map. Note that as of fall 2015, the map has not yet been updated to show the new campground and network of bicycle trails.

The Bar Harbor-Winter Harbor ferry —  a converted larger-sized lobster boat — makes the crossing several times a day from mid-June until mid-September. The free Island Explorer shuttle bus meets the boat and takes visitors around the peninsula, stopping at Schoodic Point and other spots. (The bus includes bike storage racks if cyclists want to take the bus for part of the trip).

Allen K. Workman’s Schoodic Point: History on the Edge of Acadia National Park (History Press, 2014) offers a short well-written account of Schoodic’s history.

About Dianne Fallon

Maniacal Traveler Dianne Fallon writes from a house in the woods in southern Maine. Her interests include travel, hiking and the outdoors, and history, and she is quickly becoming an Instagram-aholic, @themaniacialtraveler.
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