While most New Englanders know about Acadia National park, few know about its little brother on the Schoodic Peninsula. Fewer know about the downeast pleasures of the peninsula’s small fishing towns.
Three Maine towns, three experiences
Three towns on the Schoodic Peninsula reflect the area’s historic role as the home of fishermen. Winter Harbor, Prospect Harbor and Corea still show that past. For more than a century the men of Maine left their small harbors to fish offshore for herring and their wives and children worked in scores of processing plants in those harbors, processing, smoking and canning those herring as sardines or smoked herring. But the herring were eventually fished out and today lobstering has now replaced the herring fishery that once fed these families.
Prospect Harbor is a good example of this. Located on a long cove that provides protected anchorage for fishing boats, a major sardine and herring cannery operated here until the herring population declined in the late ‘90s. A giant fisherman in a yellow slicker and holding a can of sardines once announced the product made in the nearby processing plant but now he holds a lobster trap, touting the canned lobster now processed there. Out in the harbor lobstermen’s boats bob on the waters of the well protected harbor.
Of the three, Winter Harbor has the most facilities for visitors. The Gerrish Cafe, friendly and informal, serves great lunches, with a summer option of dining on a terrace in front. It serves lunch and dinner, but it is best to reserve for dinner and check to make sure they are open. Likewise, newly reopened Bunker’s Wharf (207 963-7488), at East Schoodic Drive in Birch Harbor on the edge of Winter Harbor, a bit more upscale but still informal, is open for dinner and in summer serves on a terrace overlooking the attractive fishing harbor. Be sure to try the crab cakes (one appetizer easily serves for two people) and the crab stuffed haddock, also very generous. Reservations are a good idea in the evening.
Corea, with a name sounding like the Asian country, sits apart from the other two and is a postcard version of what everyone thinks a small fishing town should be. Long-legged docks rise far above the water level at low tide. In off season travelers are likely to find stacks of lobster pots on the docks, or even fishing nets hung to dry. At low tide, some of the lobster boats and their tending skiffs, rest comfortably on the muddy bottom of the harbor.
Shopping and lodging on Schoodic
There are a number of local craftsmen who have shops in the area. Gouldsboro, the town along Route 1, is also home to the Bartlett Winery, a maker of fine fruit wines. A visit to their tasting room is a happy occasion. Darthia Farm also has a shop of food and crafts on Route 186 north of Inner Harbor. Look for Lee Art Glass on Route 186 on the west side of the peninsula.
None of these three towns has the big hotels prevalent on Mount Desert Island but you will find a number of impeccably clean and friendly downeast B&Bs. Elsa’s Inn On The Harbor, a B&B at Prospect Harbor, is a fine example of the hospitality that prevails here. Freshly made cookies are always available to go with your tea or coffee in the afternoon. Located in a newly restored, but old, family home, it sits across the street from an active fishing harbor. Lobstermen move in and out of the harbor all day but they usually set off to tend their traps well before guests are at the table for one of Elsa’s big breakfasts. There are also a number of other B&B options are available on Schoodic.
Getting to the Schoodic Peninsula from Boston
From greater Boston takeI-95 north to Portland, Maine. Just south of the city follow I-295 through and past the city, it will rejoin I-95 north of the city. North of the city look for signs to Route 3 and Belfast. Take Route 3 to Route 1 north at Belfast, following it to Bucksport and on to Ellsworth. Traveling northeast on historic Route 1 in Ellsworth be sure to follow Route 1 and do not take the road to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park. Route 1 is a left turn close to the end of Ellsworth’s seemingly never-ending line of malls. Continue through Sullivan and look for Route 186 south toward Winter Harbor. The trip is about 275 miles from Boston and should take about five and a half hours.