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Interpreter’s Notes – The Center for Wildlife, Cape Neddick, Maine

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Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Dwell in possibility.

Emily Dickinson 

Decked out in t-shirts as blue as the Maine sky over Chase’s Pond that afternoon, staff and volunteers bustled around us and up ahead as we made our way from the street onto the grounds.  All the excitement was over the 2009 “Wild About Our Community” event at the Center for Wildlife, Cape Neddick, Maine.  The CFW, one of the largest animal rehabilitation facilities in New England, is becoming an increasingly significant education partner with the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation due to the extraordinary and varied off-site wildlife learning opportunities they bring to the region.  Their invitation to attend on this day was my first visit to their location.    

I had the pleasure of encountering my first representative from the Center’s considerable number of sponsors and partners when I met Dan Gardoqui, Founder & Director of White Pine Programs (, a nonprofit educational organization providing nature based programs for all ages.  “The area around the home that kids are allowed to wander has shrunk to less than 10% of what it was in 1970,” Dan informed me.  “As a result, lots of children today can’t identify an oak tree or a grasshopper,” he continued.  While I listened, there was the same quiet passion in his tone and directness in his gaze that I witnessed in Richard Louv when he spoke about his book, Last Child in the Woods.  After looking over White Pine’s brochure detailing their core programs I had a closer look around me and came away with an inkling that the Center for Wildlife, its partners and sponsors all had something special in common and I set out to learn more what that was.

“Have you been to Mt. Agamenticus lately?” Robin Kerr inquired.  I had to admit it was a long time since I had, though it is nearly always visible from the Overlook at Halibut Point, looming over  the shore as one of the highest elevations along the East Coast so near  the sea.  “We can usually always see it from the park.  On the right winter’s day we can even make out the tower,” was the best I could come up with for a recent experience with the Big A.   Robin, the Conservation Coordinator for the Mt. Agamenticus Conservation Region ( for the past six years stood by her organization’s display and removed her sunglasses to connect with me eye-to-eye:  “ Things have changed since back then” she said, able to name eight current conservation partners.  She explained the work and stewardship challenges of maintaining the acres for watershed, flora and fauna conservation as well as for recreation purposes, each one alone a daunting challenge for any conservator.  More importantly, as she let me know about MACR’s successes and going-forward plans I felt a charge in her voice as strong as a pelting northeast rain powerful enough to turn the mountain’s granite to granola.  “This mountain rules!” the group’s trail guide says.  And there on Mountain Road in the shadow of Agamenticus  I met an advocate who did the same.

 The dirt pathway framed by pines, oaks and maples curved to the right where I stopped at the outside Turtle House with a number of others and observed the box and painted turtles residing at the Center for Wildlife.  The young woman offering us a learning opportunity gently rolled her palm along the carapace of the creature she held and then moved a finger along its marginal scutes.  “They shed along these edges,” she indicated, “which are made of keratin, just like your fingernails.”

Adjacent to the presentation stood the Center for Wildlife’s office.  I paused in front of the modest sculpted pond prefacing the entrance, squinting ahead at the sign to the side of the door.  “Animal Intake” were the important words.  Even amidst the hubbub of the day I felt a zone of serenity, the recuperative hush experienced before approaching an important medical unit.  RescueRehabilitateRelease.  Stand here at you’ll know down to your core what the Center for Wildlife is all about. 

A few feet away I met Josh Baston of ReVision Energy ( I mentioned that at Halibut Point we’ve been using solar, photovoltaic and geothermal renewable energy resources since the mid 1990’s and Josh, sans any further information, was able to correctly detail the features of our older technology.  He pointed at a solar panel ahead of us on the roof of the CFW office and outlined the difference between that installation and the one we had at our site.  “ReVision Energy has installed more than half of all solar energy systems in Maine over the past few years,” he told me.  I wasn’t surprised.  

The Seacoast Science Center (  Great Works Regional Land Trust ( BioDiversity Research Institute  ( York County Audubon Society( – I met representatives from them all and even more organizations, leaving me to stop at the end of presentation row, have a look back and take stock at what I was witnessing.  I could hear storyteller Shawn Middleton, see Ed & Ken so genially scooping ice cream and families grabbing some pizza.  Scanning the day’s program, a quick count listed nearly fifty partners, sponsors and donors participating in this event. 

“Building a sustainable future for wildlife” – those are words I’ve seen CFW use more than once.  And that’s when I realized what everyone at “Wild About Our Community” had in common – they were pioneers of a notion that there are better ways to live.  And for at least one day nobody had to make much effort to find them.

Hawks, falcons, owls, porcupines, opossums, bats, squirrels, woodchucks, muskrats, songbirds, ducks, geese, swans and more -up to 150 different species – I discovered the Center for Wildlife rehabilitates and sometimes permanently cares for as I visited their natural history area.  Among the series of spaced enclosures for the animals I met CFW Board member Dawn Dickinson while reading interpretive signage by the opossum’s residence.  “They did a great job, didn’t they?” Dawn smiled, explaining the materials, laminate and font on the paneling.  I smiled back; as an employee of the DCR Bureau of Interpretive Services I knew the level of passion necessary to embrace and be excited about the intricacies and subtleties of a public information display.   

I spent the rest of my visit to the Center for Wildlife in the natural history area watching a number of live-animal presentations by staff and volunteers spaced between a number of wild bird releases that children in the audience were invited to participate in.  Kristen Lamb, CFW Education and Outreach Director, took some time from a very busy day to stand beside me for a chat.  “What’s the most fulfilling part of what you do?” I asked her.  “Countering human impact on animals,” Kristen told me.  “Humans sometimes injure them … we care for them.”  I thought about what Kristen said as I took a look around me.  How many times had I seen an animal by the side of the road, bedraggled and hurt?  Or heard its cries in some nearby woods and thought it was some poor creature that hasn’t got a prayer?  Well, many of these animals do have a prayer in Cape Neddick, one the Center for Wildlife answers some 1600 times a year.  You can discover more about the Center for Wildlife here.

Martin Buber said, “An animal’s eyes have the power to speak a great language.”  That day at the Center for Wildlife, Cape Neddick, Maine, I met a community of incredibly caring people and felt the power of a great language spoken from the hearts of some fellow human beings.     

The Center for Wildlife, Cape Neddick, Maine will be back at Halibut Point State Park with more of their wildlife ambassadors for a Birds of Prey program on Saturday, September 26th at 1:00pm.  This FREE event is sponsored by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation and the Friends of Halibut Point State Park.  You’re all invited to come and learn more about this wonderful organization.


Interpreter’s Notes – Stonebuilding in America

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The Quarry Tour has been a core program at Halibut Point for nearly as long as the site has been a state park.  The tour is an excellent opportunity to learn about the history of building with stone in America, a subject still in need of its defintive study.  Today, one still needs to “cobble” together a history from a number of written sources and one of the best is Brabara Erkkila’s book, Hammers on Stone: The History of Cape Ann Granite.  Long out of print, Erkkila’s book does an excellent job of relating much of the subject’s history, especially the founding role two Massachusetts cities – Quincy and Rockport – played in an industry that in many ways, even some surprising ones, helped define a young America. 

Early European settlers in North America seldom used stone for building.  When they arrived on the continent they usually didn’t have to look far to find substantial old-growth timber sufficent for their construction needs.  An equally significant reason why they didn’t build with stone was because they had no idea how to quarry and cut it.  When settlers in early America did use stone, usually uncut boulders and surface rock, it was for structural foundations that was in most cases fitted together and bound by a horse-hair plaster, which is why many very old buildings still smell like a barn.  The fieldstone walls you see in the woods today usually originate from a time later than most believe and can be generally clumped into two categories: The less often seen fieldstone walls constructed from pebbly or fist-sized rocks indicates a previous farm area and came from planters picking up and tossing aside rocks that the winter freeze brought to the surface prior to the initial spring plough while the fieldstone walls constructed of larger boulders indicates pasture and the walls served as livestock pens.  These walls are almost always four-feet to four and one-half feet tall and for the most part were built from 1800 – 1820.  But elaborating on the subject and timeline of fieldstone walls is for some other time … suffice to sat it’s relatively rare to encounter pre-19th Century stone structures, particularily residences, in America.

On the north shore of Massachusetts two significant examples of pre-Revolution stone structures are the Choate Bridge in Ipswich (1774), said to be the oldest stone arch bridge in the United States, and the Babson Cooperage (1658) on Rt. 127 in Gloucester.  The Choate Bridge, spanning the Ipswich River, is of no architectural design and comprised mainly of fieldstones.  The Babson Cooperage, built as the workshop of a barrel-maker and today a museum, is made of fitted stone.  The most noteworthy stone building in pre-Revolution America is without a doubt King’s Chapel in Boston.  Constructed of Quincy granite beginning in 1749, the church took five years to complete, mainly due to the challenges of quarrying and cutting the granite.  Until about 1800 the main methods of stone-cutting was to set a fire on top of a rock to heat it up and expand the mineral’s molecules, and then drop an iron ball from some distance above it.  The other way they attempted to split stone was to set some gunpowder under a slab and ignite it.  Needless to say, neither method was an efficent way to fashion good building stone. 

The golden era of stonebuilding in America was ushered in approximately two decades after the American Revolution, initiated by two factors: the desire to create a young country’s first grand monument and the message, the semiotics, (study of sign-systems by which meaningful communication occurs) of stone imagery.

Notice the buildings around you today that are constructed of stone (not brick, which is a manufactured stone material, but natural stone) and you’ll see that many natural stone buildings are banks, municipal structures and jails, most of them dating to pre-1900.  Banks and financial institutions constructed of natural stone like granite send the semiotic message that your money is safe from those whom might want to steal it and that the business won’t fold, that it’s here to stay.  “Granite Savings Bank” – that’s where you want to put your money, isn’t it?  Another message imparted from creating structures like municipal buildings with natural stone was that though America was a young country, it was here to stay.  Constructing jails from natural stone, well, the message in that image is pretty clear, that the populace needn’t worry about the convicts breaking out.  “Security,” “permanence,” “strength,” – those are words that one tends to, at least subconsciously, associate with structures built of natural stone.  And when it became time for America to build it’s first national monument, one to commemorate its fight for Independence, it had to be from the most noteworthy ceremonial building material known – natural stone.  And it was the connection between the building of a jail and a monument that began America’s first great domestic industry.

In 1803, Governor Robbins of Massachusetts desired to construct a jail from granite in Charlestown.  Around that time, a talented young architect and builder named Solomon Willard moved from the western part of the state to Boston.  The two met, discovered a mutual enthusiasm for the endeavor and set out to identify an appropriate load of granite for the project.  Walking, yes walking hundreds of miles across the state, they found two suitable sites, one in Quincy, a few miles south of Charlestown and another on Cape Ann nearly forty miles away.  They chose the Quincy site due to its proximity, but one big problem loomed – how were they going to cut and transport such an enormous amount of stone? 

Here we come to the closest Eureka! moment in the history of building with natural stone in America –

Passing through Salem one day, Governor Robbins noticed the foundations of many buildings, some fashioned from very large cut blocks of stone, exhibiting unique tool markings every six inches or so.  He inquired to one landlord and was put in touch with a contractor from Danvers who did the work.  The gentleman demonstrated to the governor his method of hand-drilling holes few inches apart in a straight row before inserting metal components called “wedges” and “half-rounds.”  Once they were set into the stone, the contractor tapped on them with a twelve-pound hammer and eventually the rock would break evenly along the drilled line.  Governor Robbins hired the man and sent him to Quincy  to teach officials of the nascent jail quarrying project this stone-breaking method and it’s said that Quincy was the first “experiment”  in splitting stone using widgets and half-rounds.   

Until recent years a number of historians credited workers in Quincy as the first to cut stone that way, but the latest and most detailed research, mainly by Barbara Erkkila and a few others has uncovered the Robbins-Willard-Salem connection.  In Hammers on Stone, Erkkila maintains that there’s a connection between the contractor Governor Robbins met in Salem and Cape Ann.  Subsequent research has revealed an earlier version of stone-cutting via widgets and half-rounds on Cape Ann since at least 1766.  Today on Cape Ann one can see numerous examples of pre-19th Century stone-cutting, usually along specific shorelines where mooring stones were cut.  They exist from the adjacent north of Halibut Point at Folly Cove, along the Halibut shore and southwards along the Atlantic Path all the way to Back Beach in Rockport.  You can find out more by attending our Quarry Tour or one of our geology programs that we feature at times during our programming season.      

Though there’s excellent evidence of stone-cutting by widgets and half-rounds on Cape Ann before 1800, it shouldn’t detract from the glory of the Quincy Quarries.  The granite being cut there for the Charlestown jail came at a time when sentiment for a national monument reached a crescendo.  Those two factors, along with the technological innovations at the Quincy Quarries such as invention of the “derrick” and pulley systems to hoist and move stone and the “two-gauge” railroad (rails two feet across) pulled by ox (an invention that paved the way for the steam locomotive) as well as Boston’s role in the Revolution and the fact that the jail was being built very close to where the most famous battle of the Revolutionary War occured, all coalesced into what became the project leading to the construction of the Bunker Hill Monument.

The attention surrounding the building of America’s first national monument, the semiotics of stone imparting a message of strength and permanence for a young nation and the technological innovations developed at the Quincy quarries led to the country’s great era of building with stone beginning around 1830 and lasting approximately for a century.  When that era began, the granite in Quincy was being used primarilty for public projects; those in the know were aware that the next great near-surface bedrock of granite existed on Cape Ann, and it was in Rockport where the age of commercial stonebuilding in America began.  During the next hundred years many of the most significant stonebuilding projects in America were constructed of Cape Ann granite.  The Longfellow Bridge in Cambridge, MA, Fort Independence in Boston, MA, The Holland Tunnel and Woolworth Building in NY, the base of the Statue of Liberty and steps of the Washington Capitol, the Carnegie-Mellon Bank in Pittsburgh, PA and Custom House in Boston, (the tallest non-reinforced stone structure in America at over 400′) are just a few examples of Cape Ann granite construction.  Not to mention the decades it was transported on massive stone-carrying sloops for use as paving stones for parts of New York City … New Orleans … Havanna, Cuba … Seville, Spain and Paris, France, to again cite only a few examples, making stone quarrying the first great domestic and international industry in America. 

There’s another very significant reason why Cape Ann granite became America’s featured stonebuilding material for a century: it’s unique density of 160lbs. per cubic foot, making it among the toughest stone in the world ever used for building.  That story, encompassing the unique geological history of Cape Ann, will be the subject of the next interpreter’s notes.  If you want to know more about quarrying on Cape Ann, go to and   or check out this excerpt from an 1884 edition of Harper’s Magazine.  And if you want to know even more about this too infrequently related aspect of American history or would like to see some Cape Ann granite being split using widgets and half-rounds, just come to our Quarry Tour on Saturdays at 10:00am.


August 2011 Programs & Events

The August 2011 schedule of special events at Halibut Point begins on Saturday, August 6 at 1:00pm with Nature Day – two back-to-back live animal programs featuring creatures seldom seen.  It starts with Nocturnal  Mammals with The Center for Wildlife from Cape Neddick, Maine.  The Center, one of the largest wildlife rehabilitation facilities in New England, is bringing along some of their wildlife ambassadors who will demonstrate the advantages and challenges of nocturnal life and reveal their unique adaptations to life in the dark.   Following Nocturnal Mammals at 3:00pm Richard Wolniewicz of Mass. Audubon is offering Essex County Amphibians and bringing along newts, frogs, toads salamanders and more.  Special events for the weekend of August 6-7 continue on Sunday the 7th at 2:00pm with the Gloucester Area Astronomy Club offering The Sun: Exploring Our Nearest Star, a safe solar viewing program featuring some special activities ans NASA handouts.

The Atlantic Path, a three-hour trek along Rockport’s resplendent public coastline, is being offered on the Sundays of August 14 & 28 from 1-4:00pm.  Please be advised – this hike entails negotiating some challenging terrain.  Also consider not wearing shorts, bringing water and some insect repellent of choice.

On Sunday, August 21 at 8:00am Peter Van Demark is hosting the monthly Birding for Beginners at Halibut Point.  As usual, meet peter in the parking lot.

Shakespeare in the Park with the Rebel Shakespeare Company is returning to Halibut Point on Saturday, August 27 at 5:00pm with The Taming of the Shrew.  Bring a blanket or chair and a picnic for this  production overlooking the former Babson Farm quarry.

Standard programs at Halibut Point in August 2011 is the Quarry Tour on Saturdays at 10:00am.  The Military History of Halibut Point is offered on the Thursdays of August 4 & 18 at 12:00pm and Tidepools will be on Thursday, August 25 at 1:00pm and on Friday the 26th at 2:00pm.  Also in August, Reading the Granite Landscape, a natural history of granite told via geology, plant communities, environmental forces, human use and more is being offered on the Mondays of August 8, 15 & 22 at 10:00am.  For a flyer you can download describing Halibut Point’s Augsut 2011 schedule, click here.

July 2011 Programs & Events

Halibut Point State Park is featuring a large number of special events in July, beginning with The Atlantic Path on Sunday, July 3rd (and also on Sunday the 24th, both dates from 1-4:00pm).  This program, a three-hour trek along Rockport’s resplendent public coastline, entails negotiaiting some challenging terrain, including some bouldering, stretches of significant poison ivy, overgrown thicket and muddy spots but the payoff is great – interesting history, tidepools, a varies shoreline and very interesting geology.  Meet at the park’s Visitors Center, don’t wear shorts, and bring water and sunscreen.  Best for ages twelve and up.  On Friday, July 8th from 7-10pm Halibut Point is offering Stargazing in conjunction with the Gloucester Area Astronomy Club.  Bring your telescope and if you don’t have one there will be plenty on hand.  And on Saturday, July 9 at 2:00pm Terry Dutton of D & D Masonry will be at the park with a Modern Stonecutting program demonstrating today’s methods and equipment used in fashioning stonework.  This program takes place outside Halibut Point’s Visitors Center.  Saturday, July 16th at 2:00pm brings Snakes of Massachusetts and the World with Rick Roth and the Cape Ann Vernal Pond Team.  This very popular program features some thirty live snakes!  Sunday, July 17th at 3:00pm is a Sunday Sounds concert of classic hits with Midlife Crisis.  Both Snakes of Massachusetts and the World and Sunday Sounds are brought to you by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation and the Friends of Halibut Point State Park.  And on Satruday, July 23rd at 5;00pm the third season of Shakespeare in the Park with the Rebel Shakespeare Company gets underway with Macbeth.

Standard park programs at Halibut Point in July are the Quarry Tour on the Saturdays of July 2nd, 9th, 16th and 23rd at 10:00am.  Meeting at the Visitors Center, this program features a video, granite-splitting demonstration and tour of the former Babson Farm Quarry.  The Military History of Halibut Point is offered on Mondays at 12:00pm.  Encompassing almost two centuries of military history at Halibut Point, the program also includes a climb to the top of the five-story artillery fire control tower.   It’ll be down to the rocky shore for some inter-tidal exploration with Tidepools on Thursday, July 7th at 10:00am, Thursday, July 21st at 10:00am, Friday, July 22nd at 10:00am and Thursday, July 28th at 3:00pm.  And July’s Birding for Beginners with Peter Van Demark will be on Sunday, July 17th at 8:00am – meet Peter in the parking lot.   A July schedule you can download is available here.

June 2011 Programs & Events

Special programs at Halibut Point State in June begin on Wednesday, June 1st with Keep Moving! a walking program for seniors sponsored by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.  To get your fitness club involved, call 617-624-5972.  On Sunday, June 5th at 1:00pm the park is featuring Reading the Granite LandscapeThis program details the natural history of granite tols via geology, plant communities and succession. environmental forces and human use.  Another special program for June is the latest trek of The Atlantic Path.  A three-hour trek along Rockport’s resplendent public coastline, we advise that this hike entails negotiation some challenging terrain.  The next Birding for Beginners is taking place on Sunday, June 19th at 8:00am.  Meet Peter van Demark in Halibut Point’s parking lot.  Also on Sunday, June 19th at 3:00pm is a Sunday Sounds concert with perennial park favorites Livin’ on Luck providing classic hits unplugged.  And on Monday, June 20th at noon Halibut Point is hosting the DCR Universal Access Team for a quarry ramble for those of all abilities.  To let them know you’ll be attending, give them a call at 413-545-5758.

Standard park programs for June are the Quarry Tour on Saturdays June 4th, 11th and 18th at 10:00am.  This 90 minute tour entails the showing of a video, a granite-splitting demonstration and a walk around the former Babson Farm Quarry.  The Military History of Halibut Point is being offered on the Mondays of June 13th, 20th and 27th at both noon and 6:00pm.  And costal exploration with Tidepools will take place on Thursday, June 2nd at 8:00am and Friday, June 3rd at 9:00am.  For a flyer you can download containing June 2011 Halibut Point State Park programs and events just click here.

May 2011 Programs & Events


In May, Halibut Point State Park’s Saturday morning Quarry Tour is offered on the 14th, 21st and 28th at 10:00am.  Meeting at the park’s Visitors Center at 10:00am, the program features a granite-cutting demonstration, the showing of a short film and a walking tour of the former Babson Farm Quarry.

At 1:00pm on Sunday May 15th and the 22nd The Military History of Halibut Point will take place inside the Visitors Center.  This program details the two centuries long military history of the site and entails a climb to the top of the park’s five story artillery fire-control tower. 

It’ll be down to the shore for some inter-tidal exploration with Tidepools  being offered on Monday, May 9th at 10:00am; Thursday, May 12th at 11:00am; Monday, May 23rd at 10:00am; Fridat, May 27th at 1:00pm and Monday, May 30th at 2:00pm.

Birding for Beginners with Peter Van Demark is Sunday, May 15th from 8-10:00am.  This May date usually features the peak of warbler viewing at the park. Meet Peter in the parking lot.

And on Sunday, May 29th from 1-4:00pm Halibut Point is offering The Atlantic Path.  Be warned: this is a three-hour trek from the park to the Emerson Inn and back over some quite challenging terrain … bouldering, thicket, slippery shore and more.  But the rewards are fantastic … significant history, some little explored shoreline and fantastic geology.  If you plan to attend,  consider NOT wearing shorts – stretches of poison ivy and thorny underbrush as well as potential biting nasties make it a good idea not to leave yourself too exposed.  Also be advised there are no amenities along the route.  This event meets at the Visitors Center.

For a downloadable flyer with May 2011 programs & events click here.

October 2010 Programs & Events


In October 2010, Halibut Point State Park is featuring two special events:

On Sunday, October 3rd from 1-4:00pm the Center for Wildlife from Cape Neddick, Maine is sponsoring A Wildlife Party!  This afternoon of live-animal presentations is an education opportunity for all to learn about the New England wildlife we share the environment with, the challenges they face, and what we all can do to lessen human impact on these animals.  Come find out more about the Center for Wildlife, one of the largest wildlife rehabilitation facilities in New England – this event is FREE and also offers free food, a granite-splitting demonstration, a look at Halibut Point’s new high-tech NOAA Automatic Ship Identification display and trips up to the top levels of the park’s World War Two artillery fire control tower.  There will be free gifts, live-animal presentations featuring CFW’s wildlife ambassadors at 2:00 & 3:00pm and more.  Come enjoy the fun and find out more about this wonderful organization.

Sunday, October 10th from 1-3:00pm is Military History Day at Halibut Point.  Join us in the Visitors Center for this program detailing the military history of Halibut Point and its artillery fire control tower, the only World War Two structure of its kind in New England open to the public today.  Constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and initially staffed by the Army Coast Artillery Corps, its defense role continued in the 1950’s as a classified radar research facility used by the Air Force in conjunction with MIT’s Lincoln Lab.  This program features Gordon Bliss, Preservation Officer of the Coast Defense Study Group and also entails a tour of the tower and description of Halibut Point’s two centuries of military history.   

Standard programming for October 2010 at Halibut Point State Park includes the Quarry Tour at 10:00am on the Saturdays of October 2nd and 9th and Birding for Beginners with Peter Van Demark on Sunday, October 16th at 8:00am.