By Bob Chaplin
Summer settlements on this uniquely beautiful island, known as Pemetic to the native peoples, continued for many centuries. During the summer, they partook of the resources the land and sea had to offer them. They knew full well that if they followed the practice of using only what they needed, they could return the next season confident that those resources would again be readily available.
In the early 1600s, Samuel de Champlain, the French explorer, sighted the island on one of his many journeys to New France. Champlain was in awe of the island’s magnificent beauty. In his journal he mapped the island and renamed it Ile des Monts Deserts.
In the mid 1700s, the early settlers arrived and year-round communities sprung up all around Mount Desert Island.
As the word spread up and down the East Coast about the grandeur of MDI in the late 1880s and early 1900s, a large summer colony became established and development took off. This period of our history became known as Bar Harbor’s Golden Era.
Early in the 1900s, a group of concerned citizens met because they were worried that there was a chance for overdevelopment of this unique environment of forests, lakes, mountains and sea. Their mission was to protect and preserve as much of Mount Desert Island as possible. They were successful in the creation of Sieur de Monts National Monument. With great vision and many years of hard work, the founders were able to establish the first national park east of the Mississippi River that eventually became Acadia National Park. The establishment of Acadia National Park ensured that a portion of this fantastic environment of Mount Desert Island would be set aside for all of us to enjoy: walking in its serene forests, enjoying quite meditation areas near its pristine lakes, hiking to the summit of one of its many mountains for a breathtaking view of Mount Desert Island and the magnificent Maine coast — and much more.
Today, with the pressure to increase mega cruise ship landings and possible pier tie-ups, Mount Desert Island is again vulnerable to damages from overuse. This plan is not something we should pursue. If we want to maintain a high-quality environment for visitors and for year-round and summer residents, then we must explore ways of keeping over-visitation from happening, or we will destroy the founders’ vision for Acadia National Park. Limiting the numbers of cruise ship landings is but one way of limiting visitor numbers. Other ways also need to be explored.
And yes, the town of Bar Harbor should purchase the old Blue Nose Ferry Terminal property. The town would then become the owner and operator of the town of Bar Harbor marina. This puts the town in a position to collect fees from the cruise ship tenders unloading passengers to go on tours or buses to the downtown business district via a shuttle system. These fees could be used to maintain the marina. The marina would help alleviate the major congestion that is now occurring at the downtown waterfront during cruise ship visitations.
The marina also could offer a great service for our fishing fleet and summer boat traffic. Additional parking spaces would be made available to help relieve the present downtown parking congestion. A picnic area at the site would allow citizens and visitors an opportunity to have a family picnic near Frenchman Bay. What a nice thought to have space to enjoy a picnic on the Bar Harbor coast available to the public.
At the turning of the 20th century, the vision was to help protect Mount Desert Island from becoming overdeveloped. This led to the establishment of Acadia National Park. At the beginning of the 21st century, we need to brainstorm and execute ideas to control over-visitation, which could undermine the plan that Charles Elliot, George Dorr and John D Rockefeller Jr. created to preserve ANP for future generations. Limiting the number of cruise ship visitors is one step in right the direction of ensuring what the founders set out to do over 100 years ago. If we do not take positive steps to control the number of visitors, we could overwhelm this precious environment.
I recommend that a task force of citizens, Friends of Acadia members, representatives of Acadia National Park and town officials work collaboratively to develop a vision statement and working document that will ensure the preservation of Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park for generations to come.
We citizens cherish being able to live, work, recreate, explore, bring up our families and hold in wonder this irreplaceable island gem. We have the talent, the knowledge, the expertise and the dedication to ensure its preservation.
The island beckons for us to help. We do not have a moment to waste.
Bob Chaplin resides in Bar Harbor.