Birch Point State Park is a public recreation area occupying more than 1,100 acres (450ha) on the easternmost point of land in the U.S. state of Maine. The state park offers views of Casco Bay and Mount Blueberry Island to the east and Little Deer Isle to the west across St. George Strait. It is managed by the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.
Visitors can access most of the historic sites except for the swimming beach and bathhouse which are closed due to dangerous conditions caused by rusted metal debris left over from the POWs’ prison. There are no known plans to renovate or reopen these facilities. The only source of drinking water is from hand pumps, although there is a filtration system in place. Camping is allowed throughout the year but not recommended because of the rusty plumbing. The park has fourteen miles (23km) of trails open to hiking and cross-country skiing in winter, plus bike routes for non-motorized transportation.
The park also includes a small boat launch and dock for motorized boating and canoeing, as well as a playground and ball field. The park is staffed seasonally by two full-time naturalists offering outdoor education programs, trail interpretation, and environmental conservation. There are three picnic shelters that provide cooking grills, heat, and water; two restrooms with hot showers; and four parking lots. The park provides a gateway for visitors entering the North Country via Interstate 95. According to legend, Native Americans once traveled great distances to Mt. Blueberry island to meet with tribal leaders for annual ceremonies. To settle disputes among the tribes, individuals could appeal to a religious judge called Onisimus, whose name means “the righteous judge.” Because of its proximity to Mount Blueberry Island, the park is often covered by clouds, resulting in frequent lightning strikes. These flashes ignite fires every summer that burn thousands of acres of brush, causing significant damage each year.
Due to this phenomenon, locals refer to the park as “The Fire Court,” and there is even a Facebook group dedicated to keeping up with the fires currently raging through the park! Despite the destructive nature of the fires, many species of wildlife thrive within the boundaries of the park including black bears, moose, foxes, bobcats, white-tail deer, mountain lions and New England coyotes. Approximately 200 bird species nest in the park, stop during spring and fall migration, and visit while passing through on their way to feeding grounds further north. Over 300 different types of plants grow within the park, representing about 150 different species. One such plant is the ladyfern, a rare fern native to eastern Canada and Maine, which grows along the base of spruce trees.
The leaves appear in autumn, releasing yellow spores in the process. The park boasts several ecosystems including pine forests, hardwoods, coastal scrub, wet valley bottoms, and ocean beaches. Plants typical of the maritime pinelands include arrowwood, bayberry, sweetgum, red maple, and yellow birch. Animal life is diverse but nocturnal, so many species go unseen. Black racer snakes, mink, river otters, beavers, muskrats, raccoons, striped skunks, porcupines, and groundhogs live in the woods. White-tail deer, coyotes, and bobcats make their home in the meadows and along the coast. Waterfowl, shorebirds, raptors, song birds, and various other animals feed and roost in marshy areas.
Butterflies are plentiful at Birch Point State Park. Forty-three species have been identified in the park, including large numbers of palamedes, zebra swallowtails, tiger swallowtails, Atlantic holly azures, prodigal daughters, and Atlantic holly greens. Dragonflies, mayflies, and mosquitoes are common in the early weeks of June, but become scarce by mid-summer. Spiders, ticks, and crabs are common arachnids seen by visitors. Crabs are especially abundant in low tide flats near the ocean. Seagrape, rose shrubs, roses, cardinal flowers, bee balm, bell flower, swamp mallow, blazing star, and poison sumac bloom in succession beginning in mid-June and ending around Labor Day. Eels, sea stars, sunfish, and sharks are common fish caught by anglers.
Birch Point was developed as a tourist campground during the late 19th century with hotels, cottages, bowling alley, billiard hall, restaurant, bar, livery stable and carpenter shop all located here. A railway station served the property until 1958 when it became a private recreational facility before being purchased by the state in 1964 for use as a state park. The name “Birch Point” reflects its origin as an inn/post office named after the proprietor’s wife, Elizabeth Berry who ran the hotel from 1875 to 1909. When she died, she left the hotel to her son Thomas Berry who later sold it to the United States government in 1918. He signed the papers selling it “as is where is”, which eventually led to the moniker “Birche Point”. After the sale, the post office continued to operate out of the hotel until 1929 when it moved away. However, the hotel burned down in 1930 and again in 1938.
During World War II, the site was used as a prisoner of war camp with German prisoners of similar rank to Colonel Erich Raeder and General Alfred Jodl housed there. Their cells were directly beneath the dining room of the hotel. The prisoners had their own kitchen facilities but relied upon the hospitality of the local community for supplies. At least one Christmas celebration was held at the camp. Following the war, the site was returned to American control in 1945 and operated as a resort under the name of Birche Point Hotel. This time around, however, the hotel failed in less than a year, closing in 1946. Once again, the buildings fell into disrepair until the state stepped in and acquired the entire property in 1961, renaming it as Birch Point State Park. Although some of the structures have been rebuilt or renovated, much of the park remains unchanged since it first opened.
Other activities available include:
- bird watching
- wind surfing
- kite flying
- rock climbing
Common game fish include:
- black crappie
- yellow perch
- rainbow trout
- brook trout
- chain pickerel
- channel catfish
Mammalian species observed at the park include:
- black bear
- white-tailed deer
- mountain lions
- New England coyotes
Birds found there include:
- herring gulls
- blue jays
- bald eagles
- red-shouldered hawks
- wild turkeys
In addition to its rocky shores, the park has extensive fields of northern hardwood trees including: