The Mystery of Moose Point
How can a state park so easy to find - and this beautiful - be so ignored?
Marianne Williams has never seen a moose at Moose Point State Park. You'd think if anyone might have it would be this former Belfast Realtor. For years, Williams made weekly visits to the Searsport park, to walk a few laps on the 1.2-mile loop trail or take her lunch on a bench overlooking Penobscot Bay. "There were times when I'd go two or three times a week," she says. "It's a perfect place to get fresh air." But no moose. "I've been there a hundred times, and I've never seen any indication that a moose walked across Route 1."
That's just the sort of place Moose Point State Park is. The 183-acre parcel has been quietly defying expectations for the past fifty years. Because it sits right on one of the busiest roads in the state, you'd think Moose Point would be one of the state's most bustling parks. Instead, it's among the least known. People drive up Route 1 past Moose Point's big brown sign all the time on their way to Acadia, assuming the park is more of a rest area than anything else, perhaps just a picnic spot. It looks small from the road, not worthy of your time. And this is where people get it all wrong.
Moose Point is indeed a picnicker's paradise - one of the better places for a cookout you'll find on the coast of Maine. With a panorama of the bay, almost a mile of shore frontage, and a new shelter and gazebo built last year, it's idyllic for setting out a spread. But there's much more to the place than that.
The picnicking area is plain enough. But in fact the spread is rather dramatic with sweeping lawns that roll impressively down to the bay. On one side of these fields are the new gazebo and shingled pavilion with its concrete floor and room enough for a family reunion or a wedding party. (Park Manager Julie McPherson says six to ten of each are held on the grounds each year.) From here much of Penobscot Bay fans out in front, all blue waves, half-inch-high islands, and passing boats. A set of eighteen stairs takes you down to the water, and there are neat tidal pools to wet the feet and fingers and a rocky shore to beachcomb along. Just above the waterfront is a small playground for the kids. The lawns and shore and swings - and, of course, the view - are enough for most people.
Only a relative few find the trailhead, an opening in the pines not far from the play area, and actually venture down Big Spruce Trail. And that is where things really get interesting. Though it is small as state parks go, Moose Point has more than two miles of trails threading through its woods. These are pleasant paths that follow the shoreline closely in places, and the forest of birch and spruce opens frequently for more glimpses of the bay. From one end of the trail you can see Sears Island. Traipse along a while and you're soon looking at Islesboro. Keep going and you'll round a corner and be staring at Belfast. This is Marianne Williams' favorite place. "The benches are just so beautifully located," she says. "That spot is just magic."
The ocean views are enchanting, and the woods are almost as nice. Several groves of trees here are old growth, and the conifers soar to heights you rarely see in Maine anymore. One in particular has a majesty that almost overwhelms - the Big Spruce, as it's known, is close to seventy-feet tall with a crown of thirty-four feet and a circumference of seven feet. It's like something from a storybook.
All of these trees managed to survive the ax during the park's previous incarnation as a dairy farm. Much of the land here was cleared by the Carver family, who in 1859 beganto purchase the property piece by piece, not unlike the way Percival Baxter built the state park named for him. The Carvers had a house, sprawling barns with enough room for sixty head of cattle, and two silos made of cypress. Most of the buildings were lost in a fire in 1927. In 1951 Clifford Carver, an official with the U.S. State Department in London, offered the property to the state of Maine to be used as a park. By 1963, it was open for business.
Today, Moose Point State Park sees about 22,000 visitors a year. That's less than half of the day users at Wolfe's Neck Woods in Freeport, and about 16 percent of what is seen at nearby Camden Hills State Park. "I think the tourists go to Camden," says the Maine Department of Conservation's Jim Crocker. "It's got the mountains and trails. And then they drive up and go right past this beautiful little park."
That might change. Thanks to monies made available by a bond issue passed last November, the park will be getting some new bathrooms and a new playground to go with its new picnic shelter, which can be reserved for events. "With these improvements, I think park use will certainly increase," says manager Julie McPherson.
McPherson, who has worked at Moose Point for eight years, hasn't laid eyes on a moose - yet. "But I have seen signs," she notes. "It has been my understanding that many years ago, moose would come from the 147 acres across Route 1, and go down to the Point to lick the salt and minerals off the rocks after a long winter. In the spring they still come through the back trail." Deer, turkeys, and at least fifty different species of birds have been spotted. And a whole lot of canines. Moose Point is a favorite among dog lovers. There's an inveterate group of them who are regulars, along with walkers like Marianne Williams.
Moose or no moose, she'll be back.
"I've been to the Rockies. I've been to the parks of San Francisco. I've been to many places," she says. "And this little Moose Point park is very special."
IF YOU GO:
Moose Point State Park is open year-round. It is located on Route 1 between Belfast and Searsport. Admission to the park is $2 adults, $1 children (five to eleven), and under five free. 207-548-2882.
- By: Andrew Vietze