Women on the Waterfront

Elaine Jones had the gift of vision for DMR

Fri, 06/03/2022 - 11:00am

    On the anniversary of the 60th year celebrating Windjammers Days and maritime history, we pay homage to our founder, Captain Marion Dash for her contribution as a female role model in our maritime community. It is her legacy that has inspired the Friends of Windjammer Days to celebrate the women who are working on the waterfront today who in turn inspire young girls and future maritime generations to come.

    From her first day as an intern at the Department of Marine Resources (DMR) in 1976 to her last day as Education Director in 2021, her ability to imagine and create has touched countless lives and brought much enrichment to our region. She first became a “woman on the working waterfront” when she accepted that work-study position, and hopefully she will be around for many years to come.

    In 1991, Jones became a full-time employee with DMR, in the position she held for 30 years. Her first order of business was rebuilding the marine-science curriculum for schools. Recognizing that teachers needed support with the “Sea Comes to the Classroom” program, Elaine adopted the train-the-trainer strategy. This successful approach resulted in a spinoff called Officer SALTY where marine patrol officers taught conservation and stewardship to coastal students. In a classroom aquarium, they cared for their ocean and its resident creatures, thus understanding the need to protect the ocean through hands-on experiences.

    Next up, Jones was tasked with designing and constructing the Maine State Aquarium in 1994. Without previous experience in this area, she persevered through all obstacles to create an impressive educational facility that delights generations of visitors. Elaine incorporated a 20' touch-tank, the ever-popular shark tank, and many others recessed into the rocky-shore façade. Filled with invertebrates and fish from the Gulf of Maine, staff interact with visitors and share their knowledge about all specimens on exhibit.

    A year later, Elaine heard about the Maine Lights Program, a federal transfer of lighthouses to new owners, which triggered a new vision.  In her course-work with teachers for recertification credits, affordable accommodations in the region were limited. Thus, she immediately visualized repurposing a lighthouse station into an educational facility. Jones spoke with the Island Institute who orchestrated the transfer. They encouraged her to visit Burnt Island to see if it would be a good fit. An island was not what Elaine had in mind, but she jumped in a skiff and went to check it out. "I fell in love right then and there.  It had everything - a rocky shore, beach, forest, meadow, seawall, tide-pools and maritime history galore. I never thought it could happen, but I fell in love with an island."

    As with her past projects, there weren’t sufficient funds to support her vision, but Elaine has a talent for finding money for what she believes in. She worked tirelessly writing grants, seeking donations, organizing events, and recruiting volunteers. She also found herself delving into the history of the island and before long Burnt Island was home to an incredible "Living History" program, created from real stories. This educational opportunity was just what this community needed - a fun way for locals, school children, teachers and visitors to learn about our region’s marine and maritime resources.

    One would think that was enough, but not Elaine. Remarkably, she was able to raise enough capital to build a post & beam education center on the island in the style of a Life Saving Station. This outstanding facility offers overnight accommodations for 32 people, thus providing students and teachers with endless opportunities to learn first-hand from their marine and maritime surroundings. It is no wonder Elaine received a Visionary Award by the Gulf of Maine Council on the Marine Environment and a Keeper of the Light Award from the American Lighthouse Foundation.  

    Today, Elaine Jones spends her time focused on family, the upcoming arrival of her first grandchild, and continued research on all of Maine’s Lights. Her pleasure in life is being helpful to others and she will continue to share her knowledge/materials through Lighthouse Education & Nautical Studies (LENS), a nonprofit she founded. She will also continue to serve her beloved island as a member of the local Keepers of Burnt Island Light, the organization responsible for fundraising to cover the lighthouse and dwelling’s full-restoration and 2021 bicentennial celebrations. When time permits, Elaine will return to writing a book about Burnt Island as a fitting tribute to its 200 years of service to mariners.

    When asked to share her most rewarding experience, she replied; "It was the quality of experiential learning provided to school children and teachers on Burnt Island. After a fun day of field experiences, the best came after sunset to include: viewing moonrise over the water, climbing the lighthouse’s spiral stairs, being greeted by its flashing light, and swishing the water to view hundreds of bioluminescent creatures sparkling below. It truly doesn’t get any better than that!”