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The changing scene

Plan an itinerary with places and pursuits, restaurants, retreats, and more that are new and untried

Asticou Inn in Northeast Harbor, a grand dame built in 1883, is being spruced up by US Hotels, which manages the White Barn Inn in Kennebunkport. Asticou Inn in Northeast Harbor, a grand dame built in 1883, is being spruced up by US Hotels, which manages the White Barn Inn in Kennebunkport. (Hilary Nangle for The Boston Globe)
By Hilary Nangle
Globe Correspondent / July 18, 2010

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Despite the economy, return visitors will find new attractions, accommodations, exhibits, and places to dine this summer. Here is a sampling.

A STORIED GARDEN
Headlining what’s new is the two-acre Bibby and Harold Alfond Children’s Garden at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens (207-633-4333, www.mainegardens.org, adult $10, 65 and older $8 ages 3-17 $5, family of two adults and two children under 18 $25). The garden is a magical place, a world of wonder that brings children’s literary figures and places to life. “There’s not a single button to push, it’s low-tech but hands-on,’’ says Maureen Heffeman, executive director.

“It was nine months in the making,’’ says Nick Caristo, project manager. “It took longer to design it than to build it,’’ adds Herb Schaal, who researched children’s books by Maine authors or with a Maine theme. Ultimately he incorporated about 20 of them into a garden party for all ages. “Kids don’t come by themselves,’’ he says.

Visitors can spend time with a topiary Miss Rumphius in the Lupine Meadow, based on the title character of the book by Barbara Cooney; cool their tootsies in Carol Hanson’s whale fountains inspired by Chris Van Dusen’s “Down to the Sea with Mr. Magee’’; clamber across steppingstones and bridges connecting the Blueberry Islands and atop Sal’s Bear, from Robert McCloskey’s “Blueberries for Sal’’ and made by Nancy Schon, the same artist who made the “Make Way for Ducklings’’ statue in Boston’s Public Garden; board “Tidely Idely,’’ from McCloskey’s “Burt Dow Deepwater Man’’; imagine the red long johns flirting with the rosebud housedress on the clothesline, as told in Ethel Pochoki’s “Rosebud and Red Flannel’’; and puzzle through Veronica’s Maze. Some features are designed especially for children, such as the bear cave and the massive, wheelchair- friendly tree house.

The gardens’ library is a treasure trove of imagination, stocked with more than 300 children’s books. Kids can take the books anywhere in the garden, read them, then return them. Or they can listen to a storyteller reading from the giant chair handcrafted from driftwood by a volunteer. Afterward, they can bring the stories to life, reenacting scenes in this storybook world.

Activities will be ongoing, with storytelling a highlight. Education director Greg Lowenberg keeps creating new ways to keep children entertained, such as the opportunity to vote with beans on the fastest-growing beanpole beans. There’s also a fairy house village, where children can add their own miniature castles, and a stump jump in the woods, a sure way to tire out little legs. Later this month, Barry Dana, former chief of the Penobscot Nation, will be building a wigwam, fire pit, and even a birchbark canoe in the gardens’ Wabanaki Village.

ZIP-A-DEE-DOO-DAH
Zip lining is an adrenalin surge. Both Sugarloaf (207-237-2000, www.sugarloaf.com) and Sunday River (207-824-3000, www.sundayriver.com) are installing zip line courses that are expected to open in August. Sugarloaf’s high-wire act will follow the old Gondy Line near Rookie River; Sunday River’s is located in a wooded natural ravine near its South Ridge base. Plans call for both to be open through the fall, then reopen when the resorts resume winter operations. In addition, Sugarloaf is opening its SuperQuad chairlift for scenic rides, and Sunday River has added geocaching to its summer activities, stashing 11 sites over its eight peaks.

Monkey C Monkey Do (207-882-6861, www.monkeycmonkeydo.com), a high-wire adventure and zip course, opened on Route 1 in Wiscasset last month.

GRAPE EXPECTATIONS
The newest addition to the state’s winery scene is Breakwater Vineyards (207-594-1721, www.breakwatervineyards.com), which is producing riesling, pinot noir, and both oak- and steel-barreled chardonnay. When the 2,500 grapevines on its 32 acres mature, it plans to use those to make its wines. Breakwater is open for tastings Friday through Sundays from noon to 5. It joins 14 other vineyards, some producing grape wines, others fruit wines. For more information see the Maine Wine Trail (www.mainewinetrail.com).

WHISTLESTOP TOUR
The all-volunteer Downeast Rail Heritage Preservation Trust has spent years rehabilitating the tracks between Ellsworth and Washington Junction and restoring a 1948 diesel engine. On July 31 Downeast Scenic Railroad (866-449-7245, www.downeastscenicrail.org) plans to offer two trips, one morning and one afternoon, Saturdays and Sundays. The 90-minute excursion on the Calais Line departs from Cadillac Mountain Sports on Main Street, in Ellsworth, and covers about 10 miles.

HUT, TWO, FREE . . .
The Flagstaff Lake Hut, the second full-service hut in the Maine Huts and Trails network (877-634-8824, www.mainehuts.org), is in full operation. The third hut, on the Dead River, about two miles below Grand Falls, is under construction, along with more than 15 miles of new trails and a 200-foot bridge. The new hut, accessible from both The Forks, Maine’s white-water capital, and on the trail from Carrabassett Valley, expands the opportunities for hiking, biking, and paddling.

This summer, children stay free Sunday through Friday at both the Poplar Stream and Flagstaff Lake huts (one child per adult; reservations must be booked by Aug. 6 for stays through Nov. 6). Also new are all-inclusive adventures, with rates beginning at $200 per adult for two nights’ lodging, all meals, and shuttles.

SNOOZE NEWS
Asticou Inn (800-258-3373, www.asticou.com), Northeast Harbor’s grande dame, is getting a facelift. US Hotels, which manages two Relais & Château properties, the White Barn Inn in Kennebunkport and Windham Hill in West Townsend, Vt., is managing this elegant, if a bit tired, classic seaside resort hotel that has been welcoming guests since 1883.

“Our role is to bring it up to its glory years, by bringing to it the twists and punches the White Barn Inn is known for,’’ says Jonathan Cartwright, chief operating officer of US Hotels’ New England collection and executive chef of the White Barn Inn.

“We’re sprucing it all up, taking care of the details,’’ Cartwright says. “We’ve upgraded the bedding, added quilts and duvets, rather than layers of sheets.’’ Cartwright has overseen reorganization and refinement of the dining room, updating the service with a seasonally changing menu highlighting local foods. “We’re featuring New England cuisine with a bit of flair,’’ he says. He’s also added lounge and child-friendly menus.

Long-range plans call for upgrading the facilities and the eventual removal of the topsiders, the spaceship-like buildings that were added to the property in the 1970s. Summer rates begin at $235 double with continental breakfast; $322 double with breakfast and dinner.

Another place to lodge large is Camden’s new Grand Harbor Inn (877-553-6997, www.grandharborinn.com). All the rooms and suites have gas fireplaces and harborview balconies. Expect fancy linens, bathrooms with Jacuzzi tubs and rain showers, and kitchenette closets. Rates begin at $369 and include a continental breakfast served to your room. Dogs stay for $35 per night.

If you want to feel as if you’re sleeping on the water, without boarding a boat, check into the Samoset Resort’s newly renovated Flume Cottage (800-341-1650, www.samosetresort.com). The 1,500-square-foot shingled cottage tops a rocky outcropping adjacent to the resort’s 15th fairway, and can accommodate up to four guests in two bedrooms. Relax in the hot tub on the deck, warm by the fireplace in the evening, or simply watch windjammers sail by and lobstermen haul traps. Rates range from $699 in late fall to $1,599 in peak summer.

EXHIBITIONIST TENDENCIES
Every summer the art museums (www.maineartmuseums.org) stack the decks with big-name exhibitions befitting a state that has been an artist magnet for more than a century.

Winslow Homer’s Maine connection is deep and the Portland Museum of Art (207-775-6148, www.portlandmuseum.org) celebrates with “Winslow Homer and the Poetics of Place,’’ which showcases the museum’s collection of his paintings through Sept. 6. Also on view, through Sept. 12, is “American Moderns: Masterworks on Paper from the Wadsworth Athenaeum Museum of Art, 1910-1960,’’ featuring 90 works on paper by masters including Edward Hopper, John Marin, and Georgia O’Keeffe.

Contemporary artist Alex Katz has summered in Lincolnville since 1954. “Alex Katz: New Work,’’ at Rockland’s Farnsworth Art Museum (207-596-6457, www.farnsworthmuseum.org, adult $12, seniors, students 17 and older $10) spotlights his recent works.

BIRDS AND BOARDS
After being closed for a year, the Hog Island Audubon Center (607-257-7308 ext.11, www.projectpuffin.org), off the Pemaquid Peninsula, is again offering residential ornithology programs. Hog Island first opened in 1936 as Audubon’s first Nature Study Camp for Teachers and Adult Students. Now, Project Puffin is sponsoring the sessions, which take place on the 330-acre island in Muscongus Bay and are led by prominent naturalists and environmental educators. “This is an exciting time at Hog Island, we’re re-envisioning how things work, new programs, new ideas,’’ says Dr. Stephen Kress, vice president for bird conservation for the National Audubon Society and creator of Project Puffin. Registration is now open for Maine Seabird Biology and Conservation, Sept. 12-17, during which participants will work with Kress and other Project Puffin biologists on Audubon’s Seabird Restoration Program. The session, presented in association with Exploritas (800-454-5768), includes discussions on seabird identification, bird banding, adaptation, migration, ecology, and conservation.

York’s Grain Surfboards is renowned for its handcrafted wooden surfboards and has long offered board-building classes. New this year is the Surfboard Builder’s Fantasy Camp (207-457-5313, www.grainsurfboards.com), a one-on-one, weeklong program during which participants work with a personal board builder to craft the perfect board. When it’s done, head to nearby Long Sands Beach. Tuition is $3,000.

BEE BALM
Stop into Morning Glory Natural Foods, on Brunswick’s Maine Street, to purchase Green Bee All-Natural Soda (800-494-0802, www.greenbeesoda.com), made by Christopher Kinkade. “I’ve been a home brewer and soda maker for 20 years,’’ Kinkade said. The debut Lemon Sting flavor was born of his research into beekeeping. “I realized how healthy bee products were, and I thought why isn’t honey used more as a sweetener? You see a lot of organic sugar and evaporated cane juice, and that’s well and good, but why not honey?’’ Kinkade blended it with rosemary, lemon, and water to create a light, refreshing, all-natural soda; think of it as sparkling lemonade with zing. It’s light and lovely, with the subtle sweetness of honey. Currently, it’s only sold at Morning Glory, but with time, it will be available in more stores. And look for a new flavor to debut in late summer.

TASTEFUL SAMPLER
Maine’s reputation as a foodie destination continues to grow, and new restaurants and food-related destinations have opened throughout the state. A few are noteworthy.

Bar Harbor’s flavors are invading Portland’s Old Port with the opening of Havana South (207-772-9988; www.havanamaine.com), serving a Latin-inspired menu, and MDI (Mount Desert Island) Ice Cream (207-210-3432, www.mdiic.com), source of some of New England’s best and most creative made-from-scratch ice cream and sorbet flavors (brown sugar pear, blueberry basil, salted caramel).

Brunswick is emerging as an ethnic dining destination. Offerings now include Little Tokyo (207-798-6888, www.littletokyomaine.com), serving sushi and Japanese specialties, and Trattoria Athena (207-721-0700), specializing in Italian and Greek fare, with handmade pastas and ingredients sourced from local farms and markets. People are eager to see just what the folks at popular El Camino have planned for their new restaurant at 111 Maine Street.

In downtown Rockport, Brian Hill, chef-owner of Camden’s popular Francine Bistro, has opened Shepherd’s Pie (207-236-8500), a dinner destination for creatively inspired comfort foods.

Venture a mile or so off Route 1 in Addison to find Bohemian Mama’s Bakery (207-483-6132), where Linda Clouser, her daughter Desiree, and son Adrian bake exquisite breads and pastries along with wood-fired oven pizza, stromboli, and subs. Don’t let the Clouser name fool you. “We come from a long line of cooking Sicilians,’’ Adrian says.

Lubec residents are beginning to refer to Water Street as “restaurant row,’’ thanks to two new restaurants bringing the downtown total to four. Nicely renovated, adjacent historical buildings house Water Street Tavern (207-733-2477) and Frank’s Dockside Restaurant & Takeout (207-733-4484). Expect more, as this town spruces up for its 2011 bicentennial, with the biggest celebrations planned next June 21-July 9.

Hilary Nangle can be reached at www.MaineTravelMaven.com.