Ram Island, off the coast of Saco Bay, as seen in July.

Ram Island, off the coast of Saco Bay, as seen in July.

BIDDEFORD — The University of New England’s campus includes a long stretch of shoreline on the Saco River. Now, the college also boasts an island.

In a ceremony Tuesday, the university formally acknowledged the gift from commercial real estate developer Art Girard and his family of Ram Island, an approximately 1-acre island two miles offshore in Saco Bay. According to the York County Registry of Deeds, the deed was transferred in December 2014. Tax records show the property in Saco is valued at about $176,000. The property includes a small summer cottage, according to former real estate listings.

UNE President Danielle Ripich said when Art Girard approached the university with the gift of this “very special, unique property,” he was seeking a steward for Ram Island who would share his values and ensure the island’s natural habitat would be preserved.

University of New England President Danielle Ripich approached Fran Girard to thank her and her husband Art Girard, standing to the left of Fran, for their gift of Ram Island. Also in the picture is Barry Costa Pierce, chair of the department of Marine Services and director of the Marine Science Center.

University of New England President Danielle Ripich approached Fran Girard to thank her and her husband Art Girard, standing to the left of Fran, for their gift of Ram Island. Also in the picture is Barry Costa Pierce, chair of the department of Marine Services and director of the Marine Science Center.

The island will be “a learning laboratory,” according to university officials.

UNE marine science students and faculty will use Ram Island for expanded experiential education and research programs in marine ecology, geology and oceanography, said Barry Costa-Pierce, director of UNE’s Marine Science Center and chair of the university’s Department of Marine Science.

“With the addition of Ram Island, UNE has become the undisputed leader in marine science education,” said Ripich. She said there is no other university in the country where students can study in such a “state-of-the-art facility” and then go two miles offshore for hands on learning on a private island, which she described as “a remarkable living laboratory.”

“We are now just a short boat ride away from experiencing the near pristine tidal community of marine organisms as well as unique seabirds,” said UNE student Dylan Turner, who is studying marine biology and aquaculture. “We have access to an undisturbed area to conduct long-term research projects in areas such as climate change and ecology.”

Turner said the acquisition of Ram Island benefits not only marine biology students, but also students studying other areas including oceanography, ocean studies and marine affairs, aquaculture, environmental studies and animal behavior.

Art Girard said he has spent a lot of time in Saco Bay, including many hours scuba diving, and thought the island, which he purchased in 1999, was a special place.

“It’s unbelievable,” he said. “Where else can you find a place like this? … On a clear day, you can see Mt. Washington.”

“It’s like a little nature preserve,” said his wife, Fran Girard.

Art Girard said they wanted to see the natural state of the island protected, so they approached the university. “It’s absolutely fantastic,” he said. “They wanted it as much as we wanted to give it to them.”

— Staff Writer Liz Gotthelf can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 325 or [email protected]


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