Take 12 Trips 2015 August: North Haven

IMG_9576This post is late coming, but things have been hectic on the school-front lately: classes beginning, jobs ending, and postgrad fellowship deadlines looming more imminently than before. But never fear because I still squeezed an August adventure in! Being in Maine during the summer, I enjoyed going out to Harpswell to enjoy the quieter and more seaside atmosphere, but towards the end of the month I led a pre-orientation trip for some first year students to North Haven Island. Pre-os aim to connect first year students with each other through outdoor excursions, scientific research, or community service before they head into all the chaos of orientation.

North Haven is twelve miles into the ocean off of Rockland, Maine and has a year-round population under 500 people. In fact, their K-12 school has only about 66 students enrolled. Everywhere we went, locals would wave at us and each other and when the island grocery store’s credit card machine broke down and my group didn’t have sufficient cash, the manager thought about just having us do an IOU. While Brunswick can operate on a more relaxed pace than other New England spots, North Haven is in a dimension of its own.

IMG_1871While staying at the island’s school, we volunteered with a couple different organizations. Day one we jumped right into a project with Waterman’s, the local arts and community center. Inside is a self-serve cafe which operates on the honor system, a theater for shows and talks (like one on ticks that was happening that night), and a ping-pong table constantly used by kids or first year Bowdoin students taking a break.

The next day we helped move some artifacts and boats around at the Historical Society. Our point-person Nan shared some interesting history about the small island community, and we learned how it was settled by European settlers from the Marshfield, Mass area. The island also used to be part of Vinalhaven, the neighboring island, but the two separated as the populations grew and local government couldn’t handle the number of people. In the afternoon, we did some trail work with the North Haven Conservation Partners at Mullen’s Head. In typical Maine fashion, North Haven boasts incredible views along the water with pine trees dotting coastline as lobster boats slip by in the bay. I don’t think I could write a more stereotypical sentence than this, but it’s true in a lot of ways. After finishing our work on the trails, we walked across the sandbar to Boy Scout Island–the whole area is chockfull of little keys and inlets, so there’s plenty to explore. On our last day, we helped with some landscaping and housekeeping projects at the school to help them set up for the first day of school. IMG_1891

Tar Tank Beach
Tar Tank Beach

In addition to service, we had some time to explore the island on our own. North Haven has only two restaurants: Cooper’s Landing which serves sandwiches and lunch food and nextdoor Calderwood Hall which opens at night and serves up some delicious pizzas. We jumped in cold Maine water at Tar Tank Beach at sunset and spent the next evening climbing Ames Knob, the tallest point on the island and about a ten minute hike. The Camden Hills unrolled in the distance and turned indigo and purple as the sun continued to descend, and the view was one to boot.


New England is full of famous islands like Block Island or Martha’s Vineyard, but North Haven is one of those places that doesn’t get thrown around often by New Englanders, and not even all the Mainers I’ve spoken to know what it is. Though small and rural, its natural beauty and relaxed, familiar vibe make it a place for a wonderful, laid-back retreat.


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