2017-10-05 / News

Ferry Beach Park Association looks for new groups, tenants

By Grant McPherson
Staff Writer

SACO – Ferry Beach Park Association seeks new partners that share their values as space on their 32- acre campus becomes available. Education Ecology, Inc., formerly Ferry Beach Ecology School, hopes to relocate to River Bend Farm on Simpson Road in Saco within the next few years. The school’s last day at Ferry Beach is scheduled to be Dec. 31, 2018.

Cathy Stackpole, executive director of Ferry Beach Park Association, said the organization has supported the school for the past 20 years. When the school’s contract was up for renewal, Ferry Beach Park Association decided not to renew it. The association needs to make up 12 percent of its income to cover the lost revenue from the school’s departure, which Stackpole believes is doable. Ferry Beach Park Association’s annual operating budget is $1.4 million.

Ferry Beach Park Association was established in 1901 as a spiritual retreat center for people from Boston, many of whom travelled by railroad. The center was founded on the principal of Universalism, which promotes a positive acceptance of the world. Today, organization officials hope to attract more local businesses to its ocean front venue and invite members of the Biddeford and Saco community to join as well.

“There’s always been the tradition of positivity about Ferry Beach,” Stackpole said. “Over the years we have decided we need to restore ourselves to that age old energy.”

DeWolfe Dining Hall, built in 2011, provided the association an opportunity to transition from a retreat destination to more of a community center, Stackpole said. Since then Ferry Beach Park Association has hosted larger national groups such as the Transformation of Language Network and musical activist duo Emma’s Revolution. Ferry Beach has also hosted Judith Lief and the students of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche to discuss Buddhist and meditative traditions. The center has seen an increase in weddings, family reunions and special events over the past several years as well. Next summer will mark the 40th Gayla hosted by Ferry Beach, a conference week for gay men focused on self-care.

“We’ve always prided ourselves on being a place that is accepting of others,” Stackpole said.

Barbara Crowley, chairman of Ferry Beach Park Association Board of Directors, has come to the beach since 1985 and wants to invite more business to the center while maintaining the values the organization was started with. She said rental costs have increased over the years to stay within the market rate but the association will still provide scholarships to maintain access to the facility for people of all socio-economic backgrounds. Crowley said Maine needs more modestly priced conference centers where nonprofits can meet.

“We’re looking to be a camp and conference center that allows for leadership and development of people of all ages aligned with our overall values,” she said. “In this day and age it’s really about how do we work to create connections across communities to develop people’s skills and abilities. We want to be a retreat center for people to have spiritual as well as leadership growth.”

This November will mark the first transgender youth conference at Ferry Beach. Summer camps have been held in the past for children, but the upcoming conference will also allow parents to discuss the topic.

“More and more of our young people are not identifying on the gender binary,” Stackpole said. “For us that means helping them explore what they need to do. Parents are scratching their heads on how to be supportive of their kids. This is our first start into that.”

The conference is the first of several winter events planned. Others include a workshop about leadership skills in December, setting intentions for the New Year in January, Reiki weekend in February and a workshop about compassionate parenting in March.

The events are part of the center’s continuing mission to foster a place of universal love that is stronger than just tolerance of other people.

“The world right now is full of hurt and pain,” Stackpole said. “We can listen to one another. We can begin to have a dialogue. We need to be that safe place where people can do that.”

Contact Staff Writer Grant McPherson at news@inthecourier.com

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