Unity College, an institution already known for experiential environmental education in the state of Maine, will receive the multi-million dollar gift that includes sixteen buildings, including the 7,500 square foot main lodge; over 150 acres of land; and additional operating support. According to college officials, the gift helps Unity College further realize its commitment to making the entire state of Maine its classroom.
Built in 1929 as a hunting and fishing getaway for an executive from Port Chester, New York, and then purchased and renamed “Sky Lodge” by two former WWII airmen in the 1940s, the main lodge has been lovingly restored over the past decade to its original state. Other amenities on the more than 150 acres include a conference center, contemporary cabins for rental, a swimming pool, an antique auto museum, a model railroad museum, and hiking trails. Outdoor activities nearby include hiking, golfing, biking, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, whitewater rafting, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, and more.
The gift comes from the Couri Foundation, established by Elaine and John Couri. Founded in 1988, the foundation has utilized Sky Lodge for programs to help deserving children get connected to nature, programs for seniors, seminars for graduate students, and other services. “My wife Elaine and I have long had a very special place in our hearts for Maine, for the Moose River Valley, and for Sky Lodge,” said John Couri, president of the Couri Foundation. “This gift to Unity College continues the tradition on which the Couri Foundation was founded, giving students of all ages an opportunity to explore and learn from all the beautiful resources this state has to offer while providing economic development opportunities for the region.”
The multi-million dollar gift, which is one of the largest in Unity College’s history, includes a substantial start-up investment and three years of additional financial support to underwrite staffing and programmatic development as Unity College looks to build on the care and success Sky Lodge enjoyed under the leadership of the Couri Foundation.
Solidly rooted in the experience of Maine, Unity College educates environmental learners, scientists, and leaders through graduate, undergraduate, professional trainings, adventure experiences, camps, and certificate programs. The college will use the facilities and Sky Lodge campus in a number of ways, from providing real-world research, sustainable business, and adventure learning opportunities for students, to continued and expanded use of the site for outdoor enthusiasts and vacationers to Maine, and destination-based sustainability training for professionals.
“At Unity College, we consider Maine to be our classroom, so this is an incredible gift from the Couri Foundation, and we are ecstatic that Unity College was given the chance to steward this historical property,” said Unity College President Dr. Melik Peter Khoury. “We are excited not only for the experiences this will give our students, but also for the opportunity for the college to become part of the communities in Jackman, the Moose River Valley, and the northern Maine woods. Now that Unity College has received this gift, we are really looking forward to getting to know the selectmen, business leaders, and residents who have helped shape the region into one of Maine’s premiere vacation destinations for outdoor enthusiasts.”
“Unity College is a down to earth organization, and the students are a reflection of that,” said Mr. Couri. “My hope is that this gift will help those students on their path to fulfilling careers, while continuing the legacy of Sky Lodge as a place to remember for generations to come.”
Unity College’s graduate students will have opportunities to attend professional seminars aligned with their programs in environmental GIS, sustainable enterprise, conservation law enforcement, and other sustainability science fields of study. Students from all 17 of Unity College’s undergraduate majors will use Sky Lodge for experiential education such as retreats and workshops, research, and even getting hands-on training in running a business, all while they are still in college.
“The traditional liberal arts college education is changing, and we are looking at every way to give Unity College students the transformational learning experiences they expect and deserve,” said Khoury. “We see Sky Lodge as a significant opportunity for all students in all majors, but especially those in our newest major, Sustainable Business Enterprise. Students will not only study how to run a business, but they will actually get to do it.”
The main lodge, campus, and amenities of Sky Lodge add significantly to the college’s portfolio of educational properties, which also includes the flagship location in Unity; the Unity College Center for the Performing Arts and Field of Dreams recreational park in the Unity town center; as well as the McKay Farm and Research Station, a 20-acre farm with a 32,000 square foot greenhouse facility in Thorndike, Maine.
“Sky Lodge will be a phenomenal resource for our students,” said Chief Advancement Officer Erica Hutchinson. “Unity College has received many generous gifts in its history, but this one will have an extraordinary and lasting impact on our students and faculty for years to come.”
Unity College plans to continue successful programs and add more to the Sky Lodge calendar. The lodge and campus will continue to be available for retreats, weddings, conferences, and workshops from outside organizations. Lodging and hospitality services will continue, as will the Moose River Valley Senior Center. Unity College Student Government Association students are planning their annual retreat at Sky Lodge in April. As early as this summer, Unity College plans to offer special events and ecotours based at Sky Lodge to showcase the landscapes of the Moose River Valley. Academic experiences will likely begin in fall of 2018. A grand opening and media day will be announced in the coming months.