Greenland Point Coalition
The lake is placid except for the occasional canoeist. A woodpecker’s rapid-fire knocking can be heard nearby, as a watchful eagle soars overhead. In the distance, a previously unnoticed moose lumbers back into the woods. The most interesting creatures, however, are probably the children, whose boisterous voices can be heard coming from the dining cabin. Welcome to the Greenland Point Center.
The 64-acre center is located on Long Lake in Princeton on a peninsula known, not surprisingly, as Greenland Point. It includes twelve cabins, a sporting-camp-style lodge seating eighty for meals, an aquatics area, and two outdoor sports areas for activities like archery, volleyball, and softball. In addition, several miles of hiking trails connect to the property.
The mission of the Center is ambitious and bridges political and cultural divides by tapping into two valuable resources: local natural heritage and local people. That mission is "to promote healthy lifestyles and environmental stewardship by providing children and adults, including those with disabilities, with a natural setting and programs that teach out door skills, leadership, ethics, and alternatives to substance abuse."
Several programs support this mission, the oldest of which is called "Conservation Camp." Since the 1980’s, hundreds of young people aged ten to fourteen years old have graduated from the camp with certifications in Hunter and Boating Safety. More than this, however, those graduates have learned how to preserve the land for the future.
For Conservation Camp, Greenland Point brings in a series of experts. Game Wardens come each week to speak to the youth. A leader from the Maine Trapper’s Association comes to talk about how traps work and how to set them so that no one gets hurt. Men and women from the Penobscot Fly Fisher’s Association show the teens how to fly fish and tie flies.
Students are also taught gun safety. They learn to ask themselves "Shoot or Don’t shoot: can this shot be taken Safely? Legally? Ethically?"
"It amazes me the change that this experience can have in kids," says Jon Speed, the Executive Director and President of the Board of Directors. "Some come here timid, and a little fearful, and they leave more self-assured, and knowing they can learn real-world skills."
The camp is not just a summer experience, however. In 1998, Greenland Point launched Winter Conservation Camp for young people of the same ages.
For younger children, ages eight through twelve, Greenland Point Center offers Wet ‘n’ Wild Camp. At this program, pre-teens learn conservation through fun games, water sports, and outdoor adventures. The program is popular, sometimes drawing kids back for more than one week in the same summer session.
For teens thirteen to sixteen, the Center offers Maine Waterways Adventures, an advanced conservation adventure. Teens take a wilderness expedition by canoe, swimming, fishing, hiking, and learning.
Greenland Point also partners with other organizations to provide additional programs, like the Downeast Teen LeadershipCamp, a student-led five-day set of workshops for seventh, eighth, and ninth graders. The program stresses positive decision-making when teens are faced with opportunities for drug or alcohol use.
Local area schools also use the center for Outdoor School. Over 4,000 young people have taken part, with studies that might include woods safety, canoe safety, a compass course, forest ecology, or a treasure hunt.
All of this activity is ironic given that Greenland Point Center almost ceased to exist just four years ago. For over twenty years, the Center was part of the University of Maine system. Unfortunately, the program was too costly for the University, which put the Center up for sale in 2004. A buyer soon stepped forward to buy the property and develop it for lakefront homes. It appeared that its days as a public resource might be over.
Local people took action. The Princeton Rod & Gun Club, which also owns property on Greenland Point, put out the alarm that this valuable local resource might be lost. People from Hancock, Penobscot, and Washington Counties banded together to form the Greenland Point Coalition. Led by Jon Speed and the Princeton Rod and Gun Club, the group elected officers and filed for non-profit incorporation.
The Coalition includes a broad spectrum of organizations, including corporations, conservation groups, sportsmen’s alliances, educational institutions, the Passamaquoddy Tribe and at least one economic development agency.
The coalition immediately began raising money to counter the buyer’s offer. Suddenly Jon Speed and other coalition members were seen and heard everywhere across the region asking for contributions.
Even the original buyer ended up cooperating with efforts to save the facility. Still, the financial obstacle was a serious one. Although the sale price of Greenland Point is not known, the original buyer had bid $400,000.
The Passamaquoddy Tribe held a special Ceremony of Hope on October 3, 2004 which ultimately turned the tide, although no one may have known at the time. The purpose of the ceremony was to bring together all of those who had an interest in seeing the Center continue.
Present at that ceremony were a man and his wife from Southern Maine, philanthropists concerned with the children of Maine. The couple later provided the anonymous financial backing that made it possible for the Coalition to purchase Greenland Point. The Coalition has developed its own business plan to repay a loan from the generous backers.
In June of 2005, the Greenland Point Coalition finally took title to the deed for the property. The work of the Coalition was still not done, however. Aside from raising funds to repay the loan, the group was also faced with maintenance and improvement tasks. A new steel roof was put on the main lodge, and with support from local sponsors and civic groups, the cabins were spruced up and electrified. By July of 2006, the camps were once again open for business.
Approximately 120 young people a year now take part in Conservation Camp. Last year, 104 took part in Wet and Wild. Over 500 students from schools all over Washington County took part in the Outdoor School program last year alone.
One young person familiar with Greenland Point is soon-to-be twelve-year-old Taya Bloomer. In the past two years, Taya has been to Greenland Point four times: two summer conservation camps, and two winter camps. "I like playing ‘Capture the Gold,’" she says. "We won." The game is like Capture the Flag, but it involves capturing multiple gold pieces.
Taya’s mother, Erica Yates, says the camp appealed to her for a different reason: the quality of education provided by the experts Greenland Point brings in to instruct the kids. "They really get something educational out of it, but it’s so much fun that they don’t even realize it." she says.
"When Taya came back from the winter camp, they had spent time out under the stars. Taya can point out different stars now, and she knows what some of the constellations are." Among other things, Taya also learned outdoor safety, as well as how to tie a fishing fly and how to shoot with a bow and arrow.
Taya’s older brother Savage has also attended camps twice.
The programs truly are about the children. The cost of Conservation camp is $400 for the week-long camp, but as Jon Speed puts it " we don’t want to leave any child behind" if they want to go to camp.
Considerable effort is spent each year recruiting donations for scholarships. Local civic and conservation groups put forward money, as do private contributors.
One effort that makes a huge difference is the annual moose permit auction from the Maine Department of Inland Fish & Wildlife. Every year, hunters offer bids on five moose permits, and the proceeds go to scholarships for kids to take part at Greenland Point and at one other Maine conservation camp.
Downeast Resource Conservation & Development is a sponsor of the center, having helped establish a tax-exempt corporation and made grant applications on its behalf. At least one child each year gets a scholarship from that organization. "It’s great, because it’s providing educational recreational opportunities," says Gary Edwards, Downeast RC&D Coordinator. "When I worked in Aroostook County, I used to send kids down to this camp because it was so good."
Gary gets no argument from Jennifer Peters of Sunrise County Economic Council, which is also an important supporter of the Center. "We support them because this is a resource-based economy, and the children are our greatest natural resource," she says.
Taya Bloomer sums up the camp experience. "It’s really fun to be there. They have great food. And the counselors are really nice and really fun to be with."
If you would like to provide a scholarship, volunteer, or contribute in some other way to Greenland Point Center, contact:
Greenland Point Center
P O Box 333
Princeton, ME 04668