ACADIA NATIONAL PARK, Maine — Despite one of the comic punchlines delivered by a pair of comedic storytellers, attendees at a benefit event learned Tuesday night that, when it comes to conservation, sometimes you can get there from here.
Part of the purpose of the event was to honor four people who, despite long odds and years of sometimes frustrating effort, helped protect 3,200 acres of land abutting Acadia from the threat of development.
The main attraction at the benefit, held at the park’s Schoodic Education and Research Center on the eastern side of Frenchman Bay, were two accomplished Maine humorists: Bob Bryan, founder of the Quebec-Labrador Foundation and half of the original Bert & I comedic duo, and Tim Sample, who at times has teamed up with Bryan to deliver tall tales in thick Maine accents. Marshall Dodge, the other half of Bert & I, passed away in 1982.
The duo gave a primer on Down East vernacular to approximately 150 people who attended the event, held under a tent outside Moore Auditorium on SERC’s recently redesigned oceanfront campus, and performed some of the material Bryan and Dodge had written together starting in the 1950s.
In a riff about tourists, Sample said that what visitors to Maine really want is to drive down back country roads, find a country store and to ask directions from “a cranky old geezer” who will tell them “you can’t get there from here!” — much to the delight of the crowd.
The beneficiary of the event was to raise funds for the annual Acadian Internship in Regional Conservation and Stewardship, a six-week program that draws participants from the U.S. and abroad to SERC for six weeks each summer. The program is co-sponsored by the Quebec-Labrador Foundation, the University of Maine (with leadership from Professor Rob Lilieholm) and SERC Institute.
Interns and supporters of the program were told Tuesday night that the purchase last year of 3,200 acres of land next to Acadia’s Schoodic section is a good example of what can be achieved through conservation.
For years, area conservationists and officials with Acadia National Park were concerned about the possibility that 3,200 acres of forested land just north of the park’s property at Schoodic Point could be developed. At one point now-former co-owners of the 3,200 acres — Bruno and Vittorio Modena, a father-and-son millionaire duo from Milan, Italy — proposed building an “ eco-resort” on the property with a golf course, hotel and as many as a dozen areas designated for resort housing. The plan was not well received by conservationists, Acadia officials and many area residents.
But the angst came to an end last December when it was announced that Lyme Timber Company of Hanover, N.H., had reached an agreement to buy the land from the Modena family. At the time of the announcement, Lyme Timber indicated that it would work with conservation groups Maine Coast Heritage Trust and Friends of Acadia and others as it developed a management plan for the parcel. Those who had publicly raised concerns about the Modena’s proposal uniformly welcomed the sale of the land to Lyme Timber and expressed confidence that the transfer would ensure that the property remains undeveloped.
At Tuesday’s event, officials with Lyme Timber, Acadia, Maine Coast Heritage Trust and Friends of Acadia were specifically recognized for helping make the purchase possible. Those honored were Peter Stein, managing director of Lyme Timber; Sheridan Steele, Acadia’s superintendent; Bob Deforrest, project manager for Maine Coast Heritage Trust; and David MacDonald, the new president of Friends of Acadia and Maine Coast Heritage Trust’s former director of land protection.
Jim Levitt, chairman of the Quebec-Labrador Foundation’s executive committee and emcee of Tuesday’s benefit, said Stein was one of the most strategic thinkers in the land trust movement.” And Steele in particular, he said, “never, never, never gave up on the project until it was done.”
Steele said Tuesday that, soon after he became superintendent of Acadia in 2003, he realized that possible development of the Schoodic parcel would pose a significant threat to the park’s mission.
“I spent several years just trying to figure out who the owners were and to contact them,” Steele said.
Steele said before Tuesday’s event that he did not mind being honored Tuesday for helping to prevent it from becoming reality.
“It’s a great group of folks,” he said of his fellow honorees. “So it’s nice to be included.”
Follow BDN reporter Bill Trotter on Twitter at @billtrotter.