BAR HARBOR, Maine — President Barack Obama and family arrived in Maine on Friday for a weekend getaway, taking full advantage of the near-perfect summer weather as they hiked, biked and sailed their way around scenic Mount Desert Island.
Fresh from key victories in Congress and positive developments in the gulf oil spill, the first family wasted no time delving into their short vacation in the Bar Harbor area, which long has been a destination for the rich and famous.
And everywhere they went, the Obamas were greeted by large, enthusiastic crowds lining the sidewalks in hopes of catching even a momentary glimpse of the president.
It was the first presidential vacation on MDI in exactly a century, since Howard Taft spent several days in the area.
Within 40 minutes of landing at the Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport in Trenton just after noon, the Obamas were pedaling bikes down the carriage roads that surround Witch Hole Pond, located in Acadia National Park just northwest of Bar Harbor.
Next stop: Cadillac Mountain, which at roughly 1,500 feet is the highest point on the Eastern Seaboard. The heavy fog that had blanketed MDI for much of the past several days lifted just in time, offering the Obamas blue skies accentuated by wisps of clouds as Acadia Superintendent Sheridan Steele gave the family a personal tour of the summit.
Walking by themselves as spectators and media watched from a distance, Barack and first lady Michelle Obama held hands for a spell as they walked along a pathway just below that summit that offers panoramic views of Frenchman Bay.
The couple’s two young daughters — 12-year-old Malia and 9-year-old Sasha — trailed closely behind their parents, stopping occasionally to gaze at the view or inspect the rocky terrain.
The Obama’s dog — a large, black-and-white Portuguese water dog named Bo — also made a public appearance on top of Cadillac to the delight of some onlookers.
As happened throughout the day, some spectators were lucky enough to be in the right place as the lengthy presidential motorcade wound its way up the mountain. The White House has kept mum about the first family’s itinerary, saying that no official public events were planned.
The president and first lady did stop to talk and pose for pictures with several groups.
Among them were Jeff and Doris Picard, an Exeter, N.H., couple who, coincidentally, also happen to be staying at the Bar Harbor Regency where the Obamas are spending the weekend.
Still excited from their encounter, Doris Picard said she was impressed that Michelle Obama talked with her about their trip and even expressed concern about potentially inconveniencing their stay at the hotel.
Jeff Picard said he had a “very cordial conversation” with the president, during which he told Obama that he believed the stimulus package was helping his contracting business.
“I don’t know if it was because of his doing, but I have a good customer base and good business,” Picard said.
The president’s vacation comes on the heels of an eventful week in Washington. On Thursday, the Senate approved a financial reform package that Obama and congressional Democrats say is key to preventing a repeat of the financial collapse of 2008.
Maine Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins played prominent roles in winning Senate passage after helping negotiate key compromises.
And before leaving Washington, Obama went before TV cameras in the White House Rose Garden to bask in the latest news from the Gulf of Mexico — that for the first time in 12 weeks no oil was flowing from the ruptured underwater well.
Obama, clearly relieved, called it “good news” but stressed that the cap in place was at best a temporary measure, pending the permanent cementing of the well. That is expected to happen sometime next month.
Back in Maine, the Obamas appeared to be enjoying themselves and taking full advantage of the weather to see the sights around Bar Harbor.
After Cadillac Mountain, the presidential motorcade sped through downtown Bar Harbor, where the family stopped off at Mount Desert Island Ice Cream for a 3:30 p.m. snack.
All four emerged from the well-known ice cream shop with cones in hand.
“I went with coconut,” Obama said as he walked out of the shop. Licking his cone, he said: “This stuff is terrific. Excellent. I strongly recommend it.” He shook hands and posed for photos with some German exchange students, telling them “Guten tag” or “Hello.”
Continuing their aggressive agenda, the Obamas were on board a National Park Service boat for a brief tour of the harbor within an hour of checking into their hotel. Surrounded by five smaller, faster Coast Guard boats as well as other crafts, the president cruised around Bar Island and Sheep Porcupine Island but turned around to head back into downtown Bar Harbor as a thick fog began to roll in.
The presence of the presidential motorcade downtown and the approach of the small fleet surrounding Obama’s boat drew a large crowd to the piers, many of whom greeted him with cheers. With one arm around his eldest daughter, Malia, the president waved to the crowd.
The Obamas ate at Stewman’s Downtown, a waterfront lobster restaurant on West Street owned by Ocean Properties, the same firm that owns the Bar Harbor Regency.
Hundreds of people standing on the south side of West Street clapped and cheered as the Obamas arrived and waited for more than an hour, hoping for a glimpse of the Obamas when they came out.
Earlier in the day, the Obamas were greeted on the tarmac at Bar Harbor airport by Gov. John Baldacci, his wife, Karen, and U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine. The first family flew to Maine aboard a smaller plane rather than the typical Boeing 747.
The Baldaccis and Michaud presented the family with several bags of Maine gifts, including popcorn from Corinth, University of Maine hockey caps, baskets made by Passamaquoddy tribal weavers, Maine books, stuffed loon and chickadee toys for the girls and L.L. Bean bags.
“I think they will enjoy themselves,” Baldacci said as he waited for Air Force One to arrive. “There is a great assortment of things for them to do.”
Obama’s vacation time as president has been relatively spare. He has spent some or all of just 65 days on vacation, including at Camp David, Mark Knoller, a CBS News reporter the White House recognized for his record-keeping, told The Associated Press. By contrast, President George W. Bush’s total after 18 months in office was 120 vacation days.
But those days have been somewhat of a nightmare to schedule for Obama. Trips with his family have been interrupted, shortened, delayed and canceled with remarkable regularity. Stays in Chicago; Martha’s Vineyard, Mass.; Hawaii and national parks out West were interrupted by the calls of office, and a trip to Indonesia has been postponed — twice.
Bangor Daily News writer Bill Trotter and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Full coverage of Obama’s visit can be followed at obama.bangordailynews.com
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