Maine National Parks: Acadian Culture, North Woods, and FDR

Travel - Isle Au Haut - Acadia National Park - Maine
Isle Au Haut lighthouse still guards the west end of the small island of Isle Au Haut, east of Stonington, Maine. Corbis via Getty Images / Getty Images

Maine's national parks are dedicated to the Acadian culture, the North Woods of Maine, the glacial landscapes of the Atlantic coast, and the summer home of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Maine National Parks Map
The National Park Services Map of Maine's National Parks.  National Park Service

According to the National Park Service, nearly three and a half million people visit Maine's parks, monuments, trails, and historic sites each year. Here are some of the most salient. 

Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park's beautiful Schooner Head bay on Mount Desert Island. / Moment / Getty Images

Acadia National Park is located on Mount Desert island on Maine's Atlantic rocky coast, east of Bar Harbor. The park encompasses a diverse environment characteristic of recent de-glaciation, featuring cobble shorelines and mountain peaks. At 1,530 feet, Cadillac Mountain, the tallest mountain along the eastern coast of the United States, is located within the park.

Native American peoples have inhabited what is now Maine for 12,000 years, and four distinct tribes—the Maliseet, Micmac, Passamaquoddy, and Penobscot—lived here prior to European colonization. Known collectively as the Wabanaki, or “People of the Dawnland,” the tribes built birch bark canoes, hunted, fished, gathered berries, harvested clams, and traded with other Wabanaki. Today each tribe has a reservation and government headquartered in Maine. 

The Wabanaki called Desert Island "Permetic " (the sloping land). In the early 17th century, the French government named it part of New France and sent Pierre Dugua and his navigator Samuel Champlain to explore it. Dugua's mission was "to establish the name, power, and authority of the King of France; to summon the natives to a knowledge of the Christian religion; to people, cultivate, and settle the said lands; to make explorations and especially to seek out mines of precious metals."

Dugua and Champlain arrived in 1604, 16 years before the English pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock. French Jesuit priests among the crew established the first mission in America on Desert Island in 1613, but their fort was destroyed by the British. 

Because Acadia's coast is young—the coasts were only carved out 15,000 years ago—the beaches are made of cobbles, except for Sand Beach. Today the island is covered with boreal (spruce-fir) and eastern deciduous (oak, maple, beech, other hardwood) forests. Glacial features in the park include broad U-shaped valleys, glacial erratics, kettle ponds, and the fjord-like Somes Sound, the only feature of its kind on the U.S. Atlantic coast. 

Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument

Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument
A pond in a dense forest on a rainy day, in Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. Jonathan Mauer / iStock / Getty Images

Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument is a new national park, a portion of Maine's North Woods near the northern trailhead end of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. The 87,500-acre parcel of land was bought by Roxanne Quimby, the innovator of Burt's Bees, who donated it to the United States, along with a $20 million endowment to preserve the park's natural resources. Quimby's non-profit foundation Elliotsville Plantation, Inc. promised an additional $20 million in support of the monument. President Barack Obama created the park in August 2016, but in April of 2017, President Donald Trump issued an Executive Order to review all National Monuments larger than 100,000 acres, including Katahdin Woods. 

One vocal supporter of the park is Maine's Governor Janet Mills, in contrast to her predecessor. Planning meetings with stakeholders including the public have continued to discuss park development. The National Resources Council of Maine is prioritizing its involvement in the protection of fish and wildlife habitats, completing a natural resource inventory and maintaining an area for non-motorized recreation. 

Maine Acadian Culture

Maine Acadian Culture
Evangeline statue, Acadian Village, Van Buren, Maine. Michael C. Snell / robertharding / Getty Images Plus

The National Park Service supports the Maine Acadian Heritage Council with the Maine Acadian Culture project, a loose association of historical societies, cultural clubs, towns and museums that celebrate the French Acadian culture of the St. John Valley. The St. John River lies in Aroostook County in northern Maine, and a 70 mile stretch of the river serves as the border between the state and Canada. Acadian cultural resources dot the river on both sides. 

Perhaps the largest historical property supported by the NPS is the Acadian Village, 17 preserved or reconstructed buildings, homes, workers' quarters, a shoe shop, barber shop, and railroad car house, overlooking the St. John River. The Acadian Village is owned and operated by Notre Héritage Vivant/Our Living Heritage. Several historic buildings are also located at Fort Kent, and the University of Maine at Fort Kent maintains the Acadian Archives, manuscript materials and audio-visual documentation relevant to regional folklore and history. 

The NPS also supports historical resources associated with the early 20th century Bangor & Aroostook Railroad, including a historic railway turntable and a caboose and green water tank. 

Roosevelt Campobello International Park

Roosevelt Campobello International Park
Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt’s magnificent summer home on Campobello Island, New Brunswick, Canada. Denis Tangney Jr. / iStock / Getty Images

Roosevelt Campobello International Park is located on Campobello Island, off the coast of Maine and just across the international border into New Brunswick, Canada. The park includes 2,800 acres of fields and forests, coastal headlands, rocky shores, cobble beaches, and sphagnum bogs, but it is best known as the place where U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945) spent summers as a child and as an adult. 

In 1881, a consortium of Boston and New York businessmen bought the northern part of the island as a development project and built three luxurious hotels. Campobello island became a tourist mecca for wealthy people from the cities of the United States and Canada who brought their families to the seaside resort to escape the summer heat. Several of the families, such as Franklin Roosevelt’s parents James and Sara Roosevelt, purchased land, and then either refurbished existing houses or built new, large “cottages.”

The Roosevelts summered at Campobello from 1883 on. The 34-room building now known as the FDR summer home was built on Passamaquoddy Bay in 1897, and it became Franklin and Eleanor's summer home after they married. They made their last trips to the island in the late 1930s, during Franklin's early presidency. 

The house, open to visitors, has been restored to its condition in 1920 and is an example of the Arts and Crafts Movement with some early American Colonial period architectural elements. 

Saint Croix Island International Historic Site

Saint Croix Island International Historic Site
This wayside exhibit and bronze statue mark the sixth stop along the interpretive trail.

National Park Service

Saint Croix Island International Historic Site, located on an island in the Saint Croix River between Canada and the United States, commemorates the archaeological and cultural history of the first (and ill-fated) French expedition into North America (1604–1605).

The expedition, the first French attempt to colonize the territory they called l'Acadie, was led by Pierre Dugua and his navigator Samuel Champlain, who with their 77 crewmen spent the winter of 1604–1605 iced in and cut off from fresh water and game. Thirty-five settlers died, apparently of scurvy, and were buried in a small cemetery on Saint Croix Island. In spring 1605 the Passamaquoddy returned from their winter sojourn to the shores of Saint Croix Island and traded game for bread. The health of the remaining settlers improved, but Dugua moved the colony, founding the settlement of Port Royal, in today's Nova Scotia.

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Hirst, K. Kris. "Maine National Parks: Acadian Culture, North Woods, and FDR." ThoughtCo, Feb. 17, 2021, Hirst, K. Kris. (2021, February 17). Maine National Parks: Acadian Culture, North Woods, and FDR. Retrieved from Hirst, K. Kris. "Maine National Parks: Acadian Culture, North Woods, and FDR." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 21, 2023).