BAR HARBOR, Maine — The president of the United States and his family? Dozens of White House staff and Secret Service agents and scores of other public safety personnel? Thousands of people hoping to catch a firsthand glimpse of the first family and millions more keeping track of the spectacle through newspapers, television and online?
Local merchants and officials say bring it on.
President Barack Obama and his family are expected to arrive early Friday afternoon for a two-day private vacation on Mount Desert Island and the eyes of the national media are expected to follow them as they tour Acadia National Park and take in the beauty of Maine’s rocky coast.
Many residents consider July to be one of the busiest months of the year without the president in town. With the Obamas staying at the Regency, a hotel within walking distance of Bar Harbor’s seaside downtown village, the amount of people expected to come to Bar Harbor is expected to be significantly higher than normal, ac-cording to local officials.
In addition, the cruise ship Maasdam, which can carry more than 1,200 passengers, is scheduled to be anchored offshore Saturday. The National Weather Service predicts the weather that day will be mostly sunny with temperatures around 80 degrees.
If there is anything else that could be arranged to try to draw even more people or attention to MDI on Saturday, merchants and officials were at a loss to think of what that might be, with the possible exception of staging the first family’s visit during the town’s annual Fourth of July festivities, which were held two weeks ago.
“Overall, it’s going to be great business and great publicity,” restaurateur Hatsana Phanthavong, who owns three eateries in town, said Thursday, the day before the Obamas’ scheduled arrival. Outside the entrance to his Siam Orchid restaurant, Phanthavong had written a welcome message to the Obamas on a white board.
“Enjoy your stay!” it read.
According to Phanthavong, some people critical of Obama’s political positions might grouse about all the fuss, but the visit transcends politics.
“It’s a great honor to have them come here,” he said. “It’s business for everybody in Bar Harbor. He might not come dine at Siam Orchid, but the hotels will be busy.”
The potentially global attention could pay dividends for MDI and Acadia National Park for years, he added.
Julie Veilleux, who owns the local shop Window Panes with her husband, Greg Veilleux, was excited Thursday afternoon about the Obamas’ impending visit. She had just erected a copy of the famous “Hope” poster of President Obama in her storefront window with an attached smaller sign that read, “A great reflection of America.”
“This is amazing for this island,” she said.
Greg Veilleux said that regardless of politics the Obamas’ visit will showcase MDI as a vacation destination in a way that few other events could.
“From a free marketing perspective, we’ve hit a vein of gold here,” Veilleux said.
Dana Reed, Bar Harbor’s town manager, said Thursday that the excitement among local residents and merchants about the Obamas’ pending arrival is palpable.
“Things are jumping here in town,” Reed said. “There’s a lot of excitement out there. We’re really honored the president has chosen [to visit] Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park. I’m expecting a lot more traffic than usual.”
Not only will there be more traffic, but it will be restricted around the waterfront hotel where the Obamas will be staying. Only people headed specifically to the Regency or to neighboring properties will be allowed on Route 3 by the hotel. All through traffic headed to downtown Bar Harbor will be directed to other routes — heavy trucks through Somesville and smaller vehicles on the national park road that parallels the restricted section of Route 3.
Tom St. Germain owns Jack Russell’s Steak House and Brewery on Route 3 near the Regency. He said Thursday he is a little nervous about the restricted traffic by his business but that he could end up drawing more people from the nearby hotels who want to be near the presidential lodging.
He said he has been getting a lot of business in recent days from Secret Service agents who have arrived before the first family. He said he even has seen them take practice motorcade runs in black SUVs past his restaurant.
“I think it will be a good weekend overall,” St. Germain said. “Some of my staff think it will be a real homerun of a weekend.”
St. Germain said he hopes people who say they are headed to his restaurant will be allowed through the security zone. He said he has two cars reserved to go pick up any diners who don’t want to try to drive into the security zone on their own.
“It will be the best place to watch the motorcade go by,” St. Germain said. “There’s definitely a big curiosity factor. We’ll have to wait and see.”
Officials with some MDI institutions said they didn’t expect security measures to play havoc with access to the island’s amenities.
Donna Gold, spokesperson for College of the Atlantic, said Thursday that getting to the small school Friday and Saturday shouldn’t be a problem even though it is located on the restricted-access portion of Route 3. COA’s usual summer programs and public facilities, including the Dorr Museum and the Blum Gallery, are expected to operate as normal on those days, she said.
According to Gold, organizers with the Penobscot Valley Craft Association were planning to hold a craft fair at the college on Saturday but decided on their own to cancel it.
“It had nothing to do with us,” Gold said. “We’ve been assured there will be no stoppage to activities in this area.”
Sheridan Steele, superintendent of Acadia National Park, released a prepared statement Thursday indicating that all of the park will be open to the public over the weekend during normal hours but that there may be temporary, unannounced detours or delays.
“The key to avoiding crowds and congestion is to be flexible with your plans and change to another location if things are too busy or if you encounter an unexpected delay,” Steele said in the statement. “You can also visit the park when it is typically more quiet, before 10 a.m. and after 6 p.m.”
One area resident said that with all the crowds, she was concerned the Obamas might not get the peace and quiet they would like during their two-day visit.
Kate Fernald and her husband, Dan Fernald, who live three miles offshore of MDI on Little Cranberry Island, met then-candidate Obama in Bangor in February 2008 when he stopped for a campaign appearance at Nicky’s Cruisin’ Diner on Union Street.
Fernald said Thursday that she spoke to Obama about her teaching career while her husband, a lobster fishermen, expressed his concerns about the state of the lobster industry and federal regulation of commercial fishing. Both Fernalds said Thursday they think Obama has done a decent job in office given the political realities he has to face.
In 2008, during their brief chat, Dan offered to send Obama some lobsters. This time around, the couple said, they would offer to take the entire Obama family out for a ride on Dan’s lobster boat Windsong.
Kate Fernald said that the ride would be a way to give the Obamas a firsthand look at life in the state away from all the sightseers and the media.
“I kind of wish they could have a nice family vacation,” she said. “It would be fun for the [Obama] girls to learn about lobster. He’s a genuine, nice man, and I’d love to share this beautiful place with them.”
MDI’s top 10
The top ten places you might spot the Obamas on Mount Desert Island this weekend, as compiled by the Bangor Daily News staff:
• Sand Beach
• Jordan Pond House
• Cadillac Mountain
• Carriage trails
• Asticou Gardens
• Downtown Bar Harbor
• Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse
• Abbe Museum
• Southwest Harbor village
These are just popular locations BDN staffers think the first family might visit and are not part of any official itinerary.