Money from Mars to fund research outpost repairs

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It’s been roughly four and a half years since huge waves churned up by Hurricane Bill swept across Mount Desert Rock, site of the most remote research field station off the East Coast.

For 40 years College of the Atlantic, a small environmental college in Bar Harbor, has run marine research programs on the tiny, treeless island, which is roughly 20 miles out in the Gulf of Maine south of Mount Desert Island. COA students, most of them undergraduates, document sightings of whales from the top of the lighthouse that was built there in 1847. Seals and seabirds also get counted and identified by half a dozen or more researchers who stay on the island for weeks at a time whenever weather allows.

The former lightkeeper’s house, a boathouse and an adjacent generator building that included an upstairs classroom all took a beating from Hurricane Bill, which blew past Maine in August 2009. On MDI, further away from the center of the storm than Mount Desert Rock, a New York girl visiting Acadia National Park with her family died when a large wave swept over about a dozen people gathered on the shore near Thunder Hole and dragged her and two others into the water.

On Mount Desert Rock, storm surge flooded the elevated first floor of the lightkeeper’s house, took out two first-floor walls of the generator building, and demolished all but one wall of the boathouse. The island had been evacuated ahead of the storm’s arrival, but the structural damage it left in its wake was severe.

COA repaired much of the lightkeeper’s house, allowing research programs to continue in 2010, but much of the damage has languished. The generator building still is propped up with stacked tiers of timbers and the boathouse platform, save for the one wall, remains exposed to all types of weather. Other storms (such as one dubbed Nemo that struck the Northeast in a little over a year ago) have continued and will continue to make maintenance difficult.

But with the help of a gift from the Mars family, known for the candy company that bears their name, college officials hope they can restore the facilities to the way they were. According to the college, the $425,000 grant from the Mars family will fund repairs to all buildings plus the boat ramp used to transfer people and supplies on and off the remote 3.5-acre outcropping.

I consider myself lucky to have made two trips out to “the rock.” Here’s some video I shot in 2010 of Matt Drennan, a contractor and COA grad, talking about damage to some of the facilities (please excuse the grimy lens).


There are plenty of great photos from Mount Desert Rock taken by BDN staff photographers Kevin Bennett and Gabor Degre that are posted with stories linked above. Here are more not-as-good photos that I took in 2010 and 2013.

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Bill Trotter

About Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors. He writes about fisheries, marine-related topics, eastern coastal Maine communities and more for the BDN. He lives in Ellsworth. Follow him on Twitter at @billtrotter.