Lodging in Maine: Oceanside Meadows Inn
Sand beaches are rare along the granite shores of Down East Maine. Rarer still are ones backed by grassy dunes. That makes the broad swath of sand between Corea Road and the sea, on the Gouldsboro Peninsula, special indeed. That undeveloped beach, while noteworthy in its own right, is merely a teaser for the abundant natural riches hidden on the 200-acre preserve surrounding Oceanside Meadows Inn in Prospect Harbor, at the head of Sand Cove.
The land is home for Ben Walter and Sonja Sundaram. It’s a place to blend their talents — Ben is a marine biologist and ecotoxicologist; Sonja is a geologist-geographer and teacher. On these acres they’ve created an environmental education center.
Oceanside Meadows Inn comprises an 1860 sea captain’s home and an 1820 farmhouse and barn. Out the front door are beach, grassy dunes, and tidal pools. Out the back door are rolling meadows, forests laced with streams, and, beyond those, a salt marsh. Sightings of moose and bald eagles are frequent.
Sonja purchased the Captain George Allen home before she met Ben. “I had a dream of fixing up an old house and teaching,” she says. She furnished it with country antiques and family treasures, then hired a couple to run it as a bed-and-breakfast while she figured out how to save it. “I just knew it was an incredibly special spot and needed to be maintained in the environment it was in,” Sonja says.
In 1989, while attending an environmental studies program in Bermuda, she met Ben. “We fell in love,” Ben says, and he started traveling back and forth to Maine. When Sonja showed him her property, he shared her reverence for it and, as a biologist, appreciated its varied flora and fauna. “There are so many different habitats in this small zone,” he says. “It’s important for us to maintain that existence.”
Their original plan called for Ben to continue his research and for Sonja to keep teaching. Then Sonja took a hard look at the inn and realized that in order for it to succeed, they had to become more involved. The restoration, including adding the adjacent farmhouse and adjoining lands, took over their lives.
One day, they realized that neither of them was doing what they wanted. “We had this fictitious idea that we could feed guests breakfast, then do our projects, then come back and check them in,” Sonja says. “We realized that to do what we wanted, we had to bring it to us.” The dream of an environmental education center took shape. Starting in 1995, they cut trails and created scientifically detailed guides illustrating the different habitats and ecosystems. Sonja worked on the organic gardens, which she foraged each morning for breakfast. With her specialty in edible flowers, her goal remains to get each guest to taste one.
Next they renovated the barn and launched the Innstitute for the Arts and Sciences, which presents a mixture of lectures and concerts for guests, local schoolchildren, and the community. With the educational center up and running, Ben purchased a research vessel. When the inn shutters for the season in late October, Sonja, Ben, and their young son, Kieran, cruise to the Bahamas and the U.S. Virgin Islands to conduct coral reef conservation. Now they’re doing what they want.