Schoodic Summit Report

A National Heritage Area for DownEast Acadia?


On July 25, 2019, Sunrise County Economic Council (SCEC) hosted a small group of community stakeholders that were interested in exploring the idea that Downeast Maine could play host to a National Heritage Area (NHA). That small meeting was also attended by Peter Samuel, the NHA Program Manager for the National Park Service’s NortheastRegion, who explained what NHA’s were, what it meant to become an NHA, and how NHA’s were designated (see the breakout box below). At the conclusion of that day’s conversations, the group decided that it would be worthwhile to hold a public meeting (the Downeast National Heritage Summit) to bring together a broader set of stakeholders and community leaders to determine whether an NHA proposal would have wide-spread community support.


National Heritage Areas (NHAs) are designated by Congress as places where natural, cultural, and historic resources combine to form a cohesive, nationally important landscape. Through their resources, NHAs tell nationally important stories that celebrate our nation’s diverse heritage. NHA communities determine how to make heritage relevant to local interests and needs.

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The Summit

The Downeast Acadia National Heritage Area Summit was convened by the Sunrise County Economic Council (SCEC) on October 9, 2019 at the Schoodic Institute in Winter Harbor, ME. The summit was attended by 40 community participants from local businesses, non- profit organizations, and both state and federal government offices.

The summit opened by the day’s facilitator, Sarah Strickland and the SCEC Executive Director, Charles Rudelitch, who spoke about the origins of the Downeast NHA concept and explained that, “The purpose of today’s summit is to broaden the conversation with a wider group of stakeholders, and to consider all the stories of Downeast Maine. In addition, today’s goal also includes expressing potential concerns, and learning how best to help local communities preserve and interpret our iconic landscapes of national significance.”

The National Park Service (NPS) provides technical assistance and distributes matching federal funds from Congress to NHA entities. NPS does not assume ownership of land inside heritage areas or impose land use controls.

Next, two presentations were provided to help frame the day’s conversations. First, Peter Samuel, Northeast Regional Manager for the NHA program, outlined the NHA application and designation process, NHA requirements, the characteristics and functions of a strong NHA, and highlighted some of the 55 NHA’s across the country. He also outlined the benefits of NHA’s to their local communities, which include:

  • Sustainable economic development – NHAs leverage federal funds (NHAs average $5.50 for every $1.00 of federal investment) to create jobs, generate revenue for local governments, and sustain local communities through revitalization and heritage tourism
  • Healthy environment and people – Many NHAs improve water and air quality in their regions through restoration projects and encourage people to enjoy natural and cultural sites by providing new recreational opportunities.
  • Improved Quality of Life –Through new or improved amenities, unique settings, and educational and volunteer opportunities, NHAs improve local quality of life.
  • Education and Stewardship – NHAs connect communities to natural, historic, and cultural sites through educational activities, which promote awareness and foster interest in and stewardship of heritage resources.
  • Community Engagement and Pride – By engaging community members in heritage conservation activities, NHAs strengthen sense of place and community pride.

Next, Dr. Joseph Kelley, a geology professor at the University of Maine, explained how glaciers created the unique landscape of Downeast Maine and how that landscape influenced and still shapes our communities, our heritage, and our natural resources-based lifestyle.

Attendees were then shown a short slideshow depicting well recognized scenes, activities, and landscapes from the region. With those images in mind, Summit participants were asked to consider – “What would a Downeast NHA look like?” To do that, meeting participants were broken into six small groups to brainstorm ideas and answer three specific questions:

1. What best defines this place?

2. What are the defining human interactions with this place?

3. What are the unique natural, cultural, and historic, features of this place, and how are they important to the nation?

Near the end of the day, these breakout groups were asked to discuss these questions and distill their conversations into a brief set of notes and to present their thoughts on how our unique natural, cultural, and historic resources combine to represent a cohesive and nationally important National Heritage Area candidate. The notes from those presentations are below:

  • Group 1: This area is a land of firsts (nation formation) with unspoiled resources and culture that has led to innovation and creativity. People have shaped the land through fisheries, agriculture, preservation/conservation, and recreation. There is a high quality of life that is community oriented, internationally connected, and focuses on remaining a quiet and beautiful place.
  • Group 2: This is a wild landscape where people earn a living from the natural resources. There is unique natural beauty, with clean waters and bold features. People and the landscape influence one another as they support communities and the land – there is a strong bond. This is a 3-nation region with strong partnerships and deep historical significance.
  • Group 3: This is an unspoiled landscape both culturally and with our natural resources. The land has shaped the people, as the people have shaped the land. The communities and families have both local and international ties with a high quality of life.
  • Group 4: The wild harvest is a focus (blueberries, fisheries, recreational) where there is a deep connection between the land and water. The remoteness makes it special, while the people are resilient and resourceful. The landscape and people interact equally with deep ties to one another and who have a strong history.
  • Group 5: The theme is wild (forest, fisheries, blueberries). The area has low population density, therefore there is room for tourists. It is a seasonal economy making many different activities for jobs. People are self-independent living off the land and protect the natural resources. There are strong partnerships with the Passamaquoddy Tribe. Several unique features including wild resources, artist heritage, history, good quality of air/light pollution.
  • Group 6: The area is defined by its natural resources where the families have been adapting to the land and water over generations. Strong ties across borders, between different cultures/people, and between the land and sea. This area has a strong history with the Revolutionary War and resources (timber/granite). We have been feeding the nation (wild blueberries, fisheries, etc.) for a long-time. As the industries have changed, the people have changed to meet the times and the landscape.


One way to characterize the day’s conversations is to assess the common ideas and themes that emerged among these breakout group discussions. That assessment was conducted, and the results are characterized in the text graphic (aka “word cloud”) below by sizing each word or phrase mentioned according to the number of times it was repeated across the six breakout groups, where larger phrase were mentioned across more groups than smaller text phrases. And while the Summit did not attempt to define the geographic scope for the proposed NHA, the participants did clearly agree that our glacial influenced landscape and our natural resources economy and landscape-related heritage would be important framing determinants for that boundary.

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