Alumni at an advertised Down East field station that closed seven years ago have banded together to reopen the property this spring as a non-profit nature education center.
The Center for Ecological Teaching and Learning will launch its first season of educational programs next week after purchasing the Robert S. Friedman Field Station on the shores of Cobscook Bay from Suffolk University in 2020. The center , founded by a group of teachers and students who had previously studied at the field station, aims to promote responsible land management and immersive learning about the ecosystem system.
“Our main mission was to protect the earth,” said Coleen O’Connell, the association’s vice president. “Our second goal was to create an education center so that people of all ages could learn about ecology.”
For nearly 50 years, the University Research Station has provided students and researchers from across the country with a place to study the biology and rugged beauty of Down East Maine. More than a dozen institutions and universities regularly used the 77-acre property in Edmunds Township, adjacent to the Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge.
But in 2015, Boston University decided to close the field station and put it on the market, as part of a sale of several real estate assets.
The thought of the station being taken over by a developer was devastating to O’Connell, a professor at Lesley University in Massachusetts, who rented the station out annually to his master’s degree students in environmental education.
About three summers ago, O’Connell and a group of alumni swapped campfire stories about their time at the station, and that’s when the idea of resurrecting the station ground began to germinate.
Someone pulled out the property listing and the group formed a plan to purchase the property. When they called the estate agent, they were told to act quickly because a developer was watching the waterfront plot and the school was eager to get rid of it.
The group made an offer of $225,000 and closed the property in February 2020, just before the pandemic hit in Maine and the real estate bonanza started by COVID.
Without advertising, the center already has a growing number of groups looking to use the facilities. Students from local elementary schools will take a field trip to the center next week. Family camping programs are planned for July and August and several schools have booked outings.
But getting the station back up and running completely will take time. When Suffolk decided to sell the property, they got rid of all sorts of fittings and furnishings.
The college sold the stove, sink, chairs, silverware, plates, library, cabins, water pump for the marine lab storage tanks, and solar panels for the station. What remains is a large mess hall, laboratory classrooms, a bathhouse, various sheds, a handful of other cabins in various conditions, and the marine classroom, which is in disrepair after being left virtually intact for years.
After paying for the land, the nonprofit will work to raise funds to restore the resort to its former glory. In the meantime, overnight visitors will likely need to camp.
Edmunds Consolidated School Principal Trudy Newcomb, who brings her students to the center to see the tidal pools at extreme low tide next week, grew up just down the road from the field station and worked there as dishwasher at the university. She was thrilled to share a piece of her childhood with the next generation.
“We all have connections from the old field station,” she said. “It’s fun to see it reopen.”