Hidden in the woods of Grand Isle, just under 14 miles east of Inn of Acadia, is an almost mystical retreat – a place to reflect on life, death, and to find serenity in an often chaotic world. ‘Mizpah’ is open to the public and offers spiritual sanctuary for people of many faiths. There is no admission to these wonderful grounds, but the experience is truly priceless.
The story of how ‘Mizpah’ came to be is as inspirational as visiting the destination.
In 1969, Richard Corbin was just 22 years old when doctors diagnosed him with fourth-stage Hodgkin disease. They told the young man he had less than a year to live. In the midst of facing his mortality, the emotions that come along with such a realization, and new treatments and multiple visits to hospitals from Maine to Boston, Richard made a promise to God that if he would spare his life “for a little while longer” then he would build a place for people whose lives cancer had touched to come for reflection, meditation and comfort while enjoying the beauty nature has to offer.
Despite struggling with treatments and side effects of those treatments, years went by and Richard survived. He kept his promise in 1991 when he began building Mizpah on a 15-acre tract of land set back in the woods a distance off the main road. Over the years, he added to the land area until there was over 100 acres of unspoiled northern Maine woods and agricultural property. In addition to amassing pine forests and fields, Richard, with the help of dozens of volunteers, began adding structures to the land.
Today, those structures include multiple smaller cabins for privacy and reflection as well as larger buildings appropriate for meetings or gatherings. And people do gather. An estimated 4,500 people visit the Mizpah grounds each year when the grounds are open from May to October. Events such as the Blessing of the Bikes, special masses, and an annual Walk Around the Pond are held regularly.
Trails run throughout the property, each offering a unique experience. In the years since Richard opened Mizpah, survivors and families of cancer patients have built memorials in the form of flower and rock gardens, benches, cabins and statues. A walk through Mizpah tells many stories, but never feels sad. Rather, the place feels like a celebration of lives – a tribute to God for the time people had with their loved ones, or the time they feel blessed to have continued despite their cancer diagnoses.
A pond in the center of the Mizpah grounds is stocked with trout and allows for families to spend time together fishing – catch and release. Floating in the pond is a giant rosary. Surrounding the pond are viewing areas and several statues of angels, the Blessed Virgin Mary, or Jesus. It takes about an hour and a half to tour the Mizpah grounds on foot. However, much of Mizpah is handicap accessible and golf carts are available for people who might have a difficult time walking the trails.
Near the heart of the original Mizpah grounds is the Cancer Survivor Wall where the names of cancer survivors are always added and can give one looking for strength the hope they need to continue their own battle, whether that battle be with cancer or some other tribulation.
Mizpah is a Non-Profit Organization with a Board of Directors. Volunteers spend 40 hours a week just mowing the grass. Many more volunteers tend to the gardens, building maintenance and the continual addition of new memorials. The symbolism of Mizpah, which, according to Mizpah’s website, means “to help another,” has grown even beyond its original purpose of being a place for people whose lives cancer has affected. Today, people continue to visit the site for many reasons, such as to reflect on any variety of physical and mental health issues they or their family members are facing, to feel closer to a lost loved one, to pray, or to simply appreciate the beauty of nature.
Another popular event is the Luminary Walk-a-Thon (Walk Around the Pond), which takes place each year on the last Sunday in August. During this fundraising event, luminary candles are placed in paper bags and lined up around the pond and edging the trails at dusk. Hundreds of people attend, and the event serves as a powerful reminder that those we love are never far from our hearts.
To learn more about Mizpah, visit their website at http://www.mizpah.us/, or call them at 1-207-316-9500, 316-3477, or 728-3129.