An overhead view of Eagle Island and the historic summer home of Arctic explorer Robert E. Peary Sr. Photo courtesy Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands

The state has decided to close Eagle Island State Historic Park, the 17-acre summer home of North Pole explorer Adm. Robert Peary, for the summer tourist season after back-to-back winter storms in January washed away the island’s only pier.

Despite heavy storm damage across the coast, including a monthlong closure at Reid State Park in Georgetown, Eagle Island is the only Maine park damaged so badly during the Jan. 10 and 13 storms that the state decided it should remain closed for the season.

“Regrettably, due to the absence of a functional pier, the Bureau of Parks and Lands has closed Eagle Island for the season, as public access is severely compromised,” said Jim Britt, a spokesman for the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.

Early estimates put the cost of repairing and replacing the island’s pier and moor at $1.9 million, plus the cost of whatever mitigation might be needed, according to Britt. The damage was reported by a passing lobsterman who spotted pieces of the wooden pier and stone crib work on the beach.

Damage to the Eagle Island pier following storms in January. Photo courtesy of Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry

The closure will be hard on Captain Peter Milholland, the owner of Seacoast Tours of Freeport, who has been running boat trips to Eagle Island for eight years. The trip takes 45 minutes each way and gives visitors two hours to spend on the island.

“Eagle Island represents a big chunk of my summer income,” Milholland said. “This will be a big blow. We’re going to try to beef up the aquaculture tours and private charters to see if we can hold on until the park opens back up, but we’ve been warned it’s going to take a while.”


Milholland has not been out to Eagle Island since the storms, as he won’t put his large lobster-style tour boat in the water again until May, but he said he has talked with DACF to check on the condition of the park and the house so that he can plan out his summer offerings.

A post-storm aerial survey shows considerable damage to the wooden pier and its stone cribwork and debris scattered along the shoreline and grounds, Milholland said. The house appears to have lost a few roof shingles. The visitor’s center, caretaker’s cottage, and hiking trails appear undamaged.

The Eagle Island pier in 2019. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Milholland is the only tour operator in northern Casco Bay that can carry more than six passengers, so he is hopeful that he can make ends meet from large charter parties. But after talking with state officials, he said he is preparing for Eagle Island to be closed for at least a couple years.

Maine Gov. Janet Mills is asking President Biden to issue a major disaster declaration to provide relief from the set of storms that battered Maine’s coast in January, causing an estimated $70.3 million worth of damage to public infrastructure and likely more to privately owned homes and working waterfronts.

The Jan. 10 and 13 storms pummeled Maine’s coastline with heavy rain, flooding, ocean swells, record high tides and wind gusts of up to 60 mph. Waves slammed into homes and flooded roads. State parks saw sand dunes collapse and get washed away.

The park used to draw about 6,000 visitors a year, but that number had dropped to about 4,000 after the state closed the Peary Museum – which was housed inside the explorer’s former summer home – due to mold that had spread when the building was closed in 2020 during the COVID-19 lockdown.

Adm. Robert Peary. Photo courtesy of the National Archives

The welcome center, park grounds and hiking trails have been open to the public while the state worked on a remediation plan, but visits declined when history buffs learned they couldn’t tour the National Historic Landmark or see the Peary artifacts, like the sextant the explorer took to the North Pole.

Peary purchased the island, which is located about 2 miles from Harpswell, in 1881 for $200, four years after he graduated from Bowdoin College. The summer home he would later build here overlooks Casco Bay and surrounding islands.

Raised in Cape Elizabeth, the Pennsylvania native is best known for leading an expedition that claimed to be the first to reach the North Pole. Peary’s claim was widely debated at the time and as recently as 1989, when a British explorer claimed the Naval officer came up 60 miles short of the pole.

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