Acadia National Park has long been one of the most visited national parks in the country. It’s about to get another distinction that will set it apart when the newly rebuilt Schoodic Education and Research Center Institute on the Schoodic Peninsula opens on Aug. 24.

There are 20 research learning centers at national parks; most are small ranches with bunkhouses.

The concept is new, just nine years old, and few national parks have taken the lead in this push to encourage research and community learning in nature at our national parklands.

This summer, Acadia will take a step forward as the leading research and educational center in the U.S. National Park Service system, when the 10-year remodeling project is finished, said Michael Soukup, president and CEO of Acadia’s institute.

“We can house nearly 200 people overnight and seat 300 people,” Soukup said. “Ours is a bit more robust in terms of its potential than the others, we think, with about 100,000 square feet. It’s unique in the park service.”

Created in 2002, the national park centers guide people in learning about nature by providing opportunities for research and education.

The nonprofit Schoodic Education and Research Center offers a facility for visiting faculty, biologists and students to do research — and a place to gather classes amidst a vast outdoor classroom.

“Parks make very good natural laboratories and good places to do research, if there is a research center,” Soukup said.

In 2002, Acadia’s research center was created after the park received the land next to its parkland on the Schoodic Peninsula from the U.S. Navy.

The site was occupied by the Navy from 1935 until 2002, first as a radio station for use in World War II and through the Cold War. The Navy closed the base in 2002 and returned the land to Acadia.

At that time, $10 million of federal stimulus money went to Acadia for the conversion from a base to a research center.

The bowling alley was converted into a bunkhouse; the infirmary became laboratories and offices; an auditorium was built.

Next year, restoration on Rockefeller Hall, built in 1935 by philanthropist John D. Rockefeller Jr., will be finished, and it will open as a visitor center.

“It will be the centerpiece. It’s magnificent,” Soukup said of the stone building that is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The center already has hosted seminars, courses and field classes for local students, visiting professors and the public. But now that the campus is fully converted, lessons in the natural sciences, art and math can expand year round.

Soukup said the center can help encourage youth to grow more interested in nature and help college students to excel in the natural sciences. More free seminars will be held on subjects such as ocean stewardship, migratory species, the archaeological study of shipwrecks and the habits of the porcupine. The center will be a national resource but serve locals as well.

“Really now that we have a campus, we are looking forward to really expanding and increasing our research and education,” Soukup said. “We want to be a regional asset, a regional source of information on regional history, ecology, art and science.”

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

dfleming@pressherald.com

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