April 23, 2018
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MDI eagerly awaits the arrival of the Obama family

By Bill Trotter, BDN Staff

MOUNT DESERT ISLAND, Maine — Anyone who knows anything isn’t talking.

But that hasn’t stopped residents and business officials from contemplating the possibilities of a planned visit this weekend by President Obama and his family.

Today’s Poll

If you saw President Obama on MDI this weekend, would you try to speak to him?



The Obamas are coming to Mount Desert Island, home of Acadia National Park, for a brief vacation, from Friday to Sunday, according to federal officials.

Information about where they are staying and what they might do while they are here has not been released.

Law enforcement officials on MDI met Monday afternoon with Secret Service representatives to discuss the logistics of the first family’s visit, but directed all questions about what might be in the works to the Secret Service and the White House.

Michael Magalski, resident agent in charge of the Secret Service’s Portland office, said Tuesday that the agency could not comment about the Obamas’ visit, either in terms of where they planned to stay or what they might do while they are here. He directed additional questions about the visit to the White House.

The White House said Tuesday that no public events are planned during the Obamas’ two-day visit and that no further details about it were available.

How the Obamas plan to travel to MDI, however, seems more apparent. Allison Navia, manager of the Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport in Trenton, said Monday that she has spoken to Secret Service officials about the Obamas’ planned arrival. She said that the first family is expected to fly in to the airport around midday Friday and is expected to depart around midday Sunday.

At what times, precisely, she said she was not sure. She also was not sure what type of aircraft might carry them but said she is confident it will not be a 747, which is too big for the airport’s runway.

Technically, any airplane with the president on board automatically is considered to be Air Force One, which most often is a 747, Navia said. This weekend, Air Force One is likely to be whatever plane the Obamas arrive and depart in, she said.

Navia said the airport is used to dealing with celebrities coming and going in the summer. Martha Stewart, Susan Sarandon, television producer Dick Wolf and the late Caspar Weinberger and Brooke Astor all have been known to use the airport, she said. Having a president of the United States come through the small facility, which had barely 10,000 passengers for all of 2009, is a whole different ball of wax, she said.

“My life is over until Sunday afternoon,” Navia said Monday. “Things have been crazy. I’ll be taking vacation next week.”

William Howard Taft is believed to have been the most recent sitting president to visit MDI, in July 1910, according to Bangor Daily News archives. Officials on the island said this week they could not remember any former president who had visited in recent memory.

But, like the airport, that doesn’t mean the towns and institutions of the island aren’t used to having important guests. Aside from Stewart, Sarandon and others before them, billionaires David Rockefeller Sr., Robert Bass, Charles Butt, Edward Johnson and Mitchell Rales also own homes here.

In June 2008, then-first lady Laura Bush visited MDI with a small group of friends for a brief vacation. As with the Obamas, Bush did not plan any public appearances before she arrived, but she was out in the public eye during her visit and met with Acadia National Park Superintendent Sheridan Steele.

Bush, an avid hiker, wanted to show her appreciation to all the federal employees who help keep the park running smoothly, Steele said Tuesday.

“She came to an event at my house,” Steele said.

The superintendent said he could not comment about what the Obamas may have planned, but said he would like to get the chance to meet the president and his family and to show them around Acadia.

“I hope so,” Steele said. “It would be great if I had an opportunity to represent the park [during an Obama visit].”

In 2008, Laura Bush also made an impromptu lunch stop at the Chart Room restaurant, a roadside establishment that overlooks the water in the Bar Harbor village of Hulls Cove.

Terri Needham, who co-owns the restaurant with her husband, Jeff Needham, said Tuesday that she has talked with her staff about the Obamas possibly stopping at the Chart Room but that she has no idea how likely that might be.

“We sure hope so,” she said. “We haven’t heard anything, but we didn’t hear anything before Laura [Bush] came, either.”

The restaurant was relatively busy during Bush’s visit, but she and her three friends sat on the outside deck and ordered fried clams, Needham said, while members of the Secret Service sat nearby or waited out in front of the restaurant.

“It would be very exciting if President Obama came in,” Needham said, adding that the anticipation could be good for her business. “Tell everybody to come on in and see if he shows up.”

The Jordan Pond House, a restaurant operated in the park by the private Acadia Corp., has been known to host VIPs, including heads of the Interior Department, mainly because of its picturesque location in the park overlooking Jordan Pond.

David Woodside, president of Acadia Corp., said Tuesday he has talked to other Pond House officials about the possibility of an Obama visit.

“We would certainly hope so,” Woodside said. “I’m not aware of any plans at this point.”

Woodside noted that the Obamas were seen in public when they made similar trips last year to Grand Canyon and Yellowstone national parks. At the Jordan Pond House, he said, the first family could enjoy popovers and ice cream on the tea lawn and could buy some popover mix at the adjacent gift shop.

“I’m sure we would be well directed [by the Secret Service] about what we needed to do” if the Obamas do show up, he said.

Durlin Lunt, town manager in Mount Desert, noted that the town gets many wealthy and sometimes famous visitors during the summer, but that generally little fuss is made over their being seen in public. Many of them stay in the villages of Seal Harbor and Northeast Harbor.

Lunt said Tuesday he is not sure the Obamas would get the same muted reception if they were spotted strolling down Main Street in Northeast Harbor.

“The president is at a whole different level [than the usual well-heeled visitor],” Lunt said. “That would be exciting.”

Year-round residents put up with the usual, relative congestion of summer because many earn their living off the seasonal tourist economy, Lunt said. If the Obamas’ visit results in larger crowds or temporary security-caused bottlenecks, he said, most local residents probably won’t complain.

“I’m sure the merchants would welcome them with open arms,” Lunt said. “It’s a short summer. We’ll take [the commotion] if we can get it.”

Chris Fogg, executive director of the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce, said Tuesday afternoon that the Chamber has not planned any events or tried to coordinate anything with the White House, given the private nature of the Obamas’ visit.

“The Chamber is excited because of the attention [the visit] will draw,” Fogg said. “It’s going to be a crazy weekend in town.”

Fogg said he doesn’t think things will be too crazy, however, in terms of security zones or sightseers hoping to get a glimpse of the commander in chief. Most people understand the president usually attracts large crowds, he said.

“He’s a pretty popular guy,” Fogg said. “I think people understand the bigger picture.”

Without an announced schedule, many locals have been left to speculate what the Obamas might do. A trip of some sort into Acadia seems to be certain, many residents agree.

Durlin, the Mount Desert town manager, suggested the president might want to go for a boat ride out on the ocean or play on one of the island’s golf courses.

“You get a whole different perspective [of MDI] from the water,” Lunt said. “I hope they have good weather and a good time.”

Fogg said that if he could advise the president he would recommend a stroll through downtown Bar Harbor and stops in some of the shops.

“I do hope they walk around town and get a feel for what a Maine coastal town is like,” Fogg said. “Hopefully, they’ll come back [sometime].”

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