BAR HARBOR, Maine — The visit of President Barack Obama to Mount Desert Island will leave lasting memories for the first family, no doubt, as well as in the minds of those who happened to be there.
For some the visit meant sighting the president at a distance. For others the encounters were up close and personal: a handshake, a brief chat and a photo opportunity. Most, however, will just remember they were there when the president visited.
For Elizabeth Jury, 27, an international school teacher from DeWitt, Mich., and Brittany Wilkins, 27, a professional basketball player from Arlington, Neb., the encounter came Saturday on the Ship Harbor Trail.
“We were sitting on the rocks, looking out on the water and taking it all in when the Secret Service came up,” Jury said. They checked us out and we’re like, ‘Obama’s coming, Obama’s coming.’ But we didn’t think he’d talk with us.”
But he did.
“He was so friendly,” Jury said. “He said, ‘Hey, guys, how’s it going?’ His wife was in front with the dog. He was very genuine, so much more open and friendly than I expected.”
Wilkins said they knew the Obamas were at the Bass Harbor lighthouse, but had decided to take a hike to avoid the crowds. That’s where they were when the family came by.
“It was pretty cool,” Wilkins said. “He was very friendly. Just like a normal guy. He was not at all prideful. It’s nice to know somebody like that is leading our country.”
Wilkins said she had supported Obama in the past.
“This reaffirmed my view,” she said. “I’m happy with him as president.”
Jury said the president just spoke about the weather and how beautiful the area was.
“We talked about things like that,” she said. “Nothing political. We were like, ‘Treat him like a normal person.’ It’s insane that he has to have that much security just to take a walk on a trail.”
After spending Saturday morning in Bar Harbor, the first family traveled to Southwest Harbor where they ate lunch at The Claremont Hotel before heading to the lighthouse.
While the Obamas spent the day on the quiet side of the island, Bar Harbor was abuzz.
“People are very excited,” said Catherine Higgins, manager at Stone Soup on Main Street. “There’s a lot of talk. I think people appreciate having the president in our little area.”
At Ben & Bill’s, where a Commander in Chief ice cream (in red, white and blue) in honor of the Obama visit was created, manager Adrienne Buckley said the visit had been exciting.
“We’ve had a lot of people in; unfortunately they [the Obamas] haven’t been in here yet, but we have one more day,” Buckley said. “We’re just glad he’s here. He’s such a wonderful man.”
While the first family was in Acadia National Park on Friday, rangers dealt with five separate rescues connected to falls and other mishaps. None of those took place anywhere near the president, but, along with the Obamas’ visit, the incidents kept rangers busy, Chief Ranger Stuart West said.
In contrast, Saturday was a quiet day in the park.
A portion of Route 3 near the Bar Harbor Regency hotel where the Obamas were staying was closed to general traffic. But most visitors and local residents were not bothered by that either.
“It’s added about 15 minutes to my route,” said Allen Ericson, a driver with the Island Explorer bus service. “But it hasn’t been a problem.”
“It’s really not a big deal,” said Tracy Pinkham, a worker at the Bar Harbor Hemporium, who drove the Park Loop Road because of the detour. “I take that road anyway to avoid mass quantities of people. The only problem is that there’s more cars on that road now.”
Jennie and Raynald Martin came to Bar Harbor from their home in Brewer.
The Martins said they shook hands with John F. Kennedy in 1960 when he made a campaign appearance in Waterville. On Saturday morning, they stood outside the Bar Harbor Club on West Street hoping to see the first family but had no such luck.
They didn’t seem to mind much, saying that just having the president visit eastern Maine was honor enough.
“I think it’s fantastic,” Raynald Martin said. “It doesn’t happen very often.”
The couple sat on a bench around 3 p.m. Saturday outside Ben & Bill’s ice cream shop, but didn’t plan to stick around to see whether the Obamas might reappear downtown.
“I wish we could have seen him,” Raynald Martin said.
Some visitors to the area were not immediately aware that President Obama and his family were visiting Bar Harbor this weekend.
“We didn’t know it until we got to the hotel last night,” said Jerry Juvee, who with his wife, Karen, was visiting from Wisconsin. “I think it’s nice that he came here. It’ll be good for the community.”
His wife agreed.
“We haven’t seen him,” she added. “But I’d be happy to see him. You don’t see a president every day.”
Not everyone was so enthusiastic.
One visitor from Ohio, who asked not to be identified, was short and to the point.
“So long as he doesn’t mess up my vacation,” he said.
On the Village Green, a group of peace activists gathered in the afternoon to urge the president to bring home the troops. The group had met on the green every Sunday since the attack on the World Trade Center, but stopped after Obama was elected.
“He campaigned on change and hope, and we wanted to give him a chance,” said Patty Ryan of Somesville.
Their posters called for an end to war in Iraq and Afghanistan and urged the president to “bring the war dollars home.”