OQUOSSOC — If Erin Hulyk’s family stopped coming to Cupsuptic Lake, she would lose a lot of what summer means to her. The 8-year-old from Massachusetts said she would lose out on fishing with franks, swimming in a lake, feeding the ducks and visiting with her chipmunk friend, “Stubby.”

“Why go anywhere else when you can sit here by the lake and look up and see an eagle dive in, take a fish and fly away? It’s a simpler life here. The way things are today, people are always on the go. This is different,” said Hulyk’s mother, Becky.

Each summer the Hulyk family drives five hours to unplug from their non-stop suburban life and live closer to nature at Cupsuptic Lake Park and Campground in western Maine.

And that’s what the folks at Rangeley Lakes Heritage Trust hoped for when they bought the campground six years ago and started running it last summer. They wanted a campground that doubled as a nature retreat; a new way to deliver the environmental messages important today.

They didn’t just want to protect large tracts of land; they wanted to open peoples’ minds to the fact they’re there.

“We’re not your grandmother’s land trust,” said Bill Pierce, the Heritage Trust’s development director.

It sounds like a natural fit for a land trust: combining the joys of camping with a Leave-No-Trace lesson, and letting the learning happen while a camper is paddling a canoe. But the fact is the campground-turned-classroom approach is unique in Maine.

There are 93 land trusts in Maine, and the Heritage Trust is the only one running a campground, according to the Maine Land Trust Network.

“We don’t keep statistics on this, but many land trusts have individual campsites where someone can hike (or) boat in, pitch a tent, and spend the night. As far as I know, RLHT is the only one in Maine running a campground,” said Warren Whitney at the network.

Previously, Rangeley Lakes Heritage Trust owned land that had a half-dozen campsites on the west shore of Cupsuptic Lake, but those were operated by the Stephen Phillips Memorial Preserve. The trust took back management of the sites when it purchased the campground and dove head-on into the work of running it.

Now at Cupsuptic Campground, there are 24 wilderness sites, including six that are on islands and six on the western shore of the lake, roughly two miles away by water.

The 125-acre campground that includes two miles of lake frontage cost $2 million, paid for with $785,000 in grants as well as private donations, said Nancy Perlson, the Heritage Trust’s executive director.

The Heritage Trust refurbished the run-down camp and built a new bathhouse and state-of-the-art pavilion. New docks were added at wilderness camp sites. Paddle boats and canoes were provided at the beach.

In the year ahead, a nature trail and boardwalk across a marsh will be built, allowing those with disabilities to be able to access a remote birding site, and watch loons and eagles hunt for food.

Then activities grounded in conservation will be added.

Already, a night camping trip there feels like a trip to the North Maine Woods. No traffic, no people, no worries.

And the commute to the main campground in the morning is an hour-long, solitary paddle.

In fact, even before the new campground owners have started their lessons in earnest, campers are buying into the tread-gently ethic, and say the take-home message is that protected land is beautiful.

John Lysik’s family had been coming to the campground since 1947, back when it was part of the Maine Forest Service.

Now he and his wife, Nancylynn, are campground hosts and spend the summer there with their two children.

“My wife and I teach school at an inner-city school. A lot of those kids don’t get outside, they don’t get dirty. My son is 13. My daughter is 12. He’s in the junior guide program up here. He wants to be a game warden. There’s no technology here. They discover they don’t need it,” said Lysik, of Nassua, N.H.

And then there are those like the Hulyks, whose experience of seeing a duckling climb into their child’s lap becomes the stuff of family lore.

When those at the trust first had the notion of owning and running a campground, Pierce said they had no idea what a good idea it was.

“When folks camp they naturally become more intimately connected to the lands they are experiencing. This often creates a more engaged champion for the region and our programs that care for it,” Pierce said.

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