Guide book touts Isle au Haut, but community wants residents, not tourists

Posted Feb. 12, 2012, at 7:21 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 13, 2012, at 5:39 a.m.
Frommer's

ISLE AU HAUT, Maine — Residents of this island located about a 40-minute boat ride from Stonington said they are not sure what the impact will be from publicity from a travel company book and website but said the more pressing need is having more year-round islanders.

Frommer’s published a book “500 Most Extraordinary Islands” that lists Isle au Haut as one of the 10 Untouched Island Escapes in the world.

“I guess it was OK but I think we were well known already,” said island native Bill Barter.

Frommer’s commented that Isle au Haut was much like its neighbor Mount Desert Island in that it is part of Acadia National Park. The authors state that few park visitors make it to Isle au Haut.

The article points out that Isle au Haut is a fancy French name for high island, named by European explorer Samuel Champlain in 1604.

“But fancy French names seem at odds with the laid-back small town quality of Ile au Haut; say it like the islanders do, ‘Eye-la-Ho,’” the article states.

Barter noted the community is trying to attract residents to keep the island alive as a community. The town has received grants to build affordable housing and a few more units are to be built in the spring, he noted.

The year-round population has decreased from about 100 when he was child, noted the 74-year-old islander, who says he is the oldest of the year-round natives.

“We don’t want to be overrun by tourists. It’s lucky we don’t have a bridge,” Barter said.

Steve Shaffer, who along with his wife, Kate, runs Black Dinah Chocolatiers, said he has not read the article but has heard about it.

He said the island is a quiet escape but may not be the tourist destination some people would want.

He too said what the island needs is a diverse economy and more people committed to the island whether it be year-round residents or people who vacation here on a regular basis.

“We don’t want gawkers,” Shaffer said.

Town Clerk Susan MacDonald she said read the Frommer’s article.

“I said, ‘you’ve go to be kidding,’” MacDonald said, adding that some of the piece was “off the wall.”

Isle au Haut has 40 year-round residents but during the summer, the population can increase to as many as 400 as summer visitors rent homes or stay at the park campgrounds. Ninety-five percent of island residents are lobstermen, she said, while some are general contractors.

A mail boat from Stonington makes two trips a day to Isle au Haut. The boat runs seven days a week in the warmer months and skips Sundays during the winter. The trip is about a 40-minute ride.

The town has a town office, a school, a post office and a general store.

The school has four students taught by one teacher and one educational technician. Students receive physical education from a member of the community while music and art is taught by teachers who come from the mainland.

The general store is open two hours a day on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Barter notes that many people go to the mainland to purchase supplies.

Barter said keeping the school, post office and general store going are key to keeping the island alive.

MacDonald said that as an island escape, it depends on what your expectations are. There are no inns or motels. There is a cafe but she said full meals are not offered.

Frommer’s has produced more than 300 guidebooks as well as its website Frommers.com, the company states.

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