St. Croix Island International Historic Site
The Bold Coast Scenic Byway continues up Cobscook Bay, an unusual estuary with a narrow opening to the sea and long, convoluted shoreline. The name Cobscook is a Maliseet-Passamaquoddy word meaning “boiling tides.” The Bay of Fundy’s tidal shifts, which average 24 feet, push massive amounts of water through the bay’s narrow channel. The nutrient-rich waters of the Bay feed an abundant array of invertebrates, which feed fish, birds, and mammals. The Bay’s inner coves support a quarter of Maine’s wintering black ducks and the state’s highest concentration of bald eagles. In addition to its wildlife, the landscape around Cobscook Bay reveals, according to geologist Nathaniel Shaler in 1886,”a more interesting assemblage of phenomena than can be found on any other part of the eastern seaboard of the United States.”
The Scenic Byway continues along Passamaquoddy Bay and then follows the St. Croix River, which forms the international boundary. The river was called “Skutik” by the Passamaquoddy people; prior to that it was inhabited by robust cultures of their ancestors. The St. Croix’s first settlers arrived nearly 12,000 years ago. The river became a major crossroads for harvesting seafood and accessing the Penobscot and Saint John river systems via the upper lakes.
Just inside the river’s mouth is St. Croix Island, site of the first French attempt in 1604 to colonize the territory they called l’Acadie, one of the earliest European settlements in northern North America, predating even the British colony of Jamestown.
Pierre Dugua led a group of French settlers, including Samuel Champlain, to locate the elusive China trade route and profit from trade in l’Acadie. They chose Saint Croix Island to settle on for its prime location near the confluence of two rivers and a bay. The winter of 1604-1605 was one of the coldest on record; the settlers were unprepared for its brutality. Ice floes prevented them reaching the mainland, and food. Nearly half of them died from scurvy, malnutrition and exposure, and were buried in a small cemetery on Saint Croix Island. The Passamaquoddy returned to their summer home on Saint Croix Island that spring and saved the men’s lives; they moved on to Port Royal, Nova Scotia.
Saint Croix Island International Historic Site, the only International Historic Site in the world, commemorates this settlement. The National Park Service and Parks Canada each administer a site on their respective side of the Saint Croix River. The US park features an interpretive trail on a small wooded point overlooking St. Croix Island. A number of life-size bronze figures of the French and Passamaquoddy and informative displays located along the trail tell their story. The Park has a visitor center, restrooms, wi-fi, and a ranger on-site to provide interpretive tours.
The park is normally open year-round during daylight hours. During winter, services are limited; displays along the interpretive trail are covered, and the visitor center is closed. The interpretive trail and visitor facilities are ADA accessible.