October 18, 2019
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If we don’t limit its use, Mount Desert Island’s beauty could be tarnished

George Danby | BDN
George Danby | BDN

In the early 1600s, the French explorer Samuel D. Champlain sighted a uniquely beautiful island, known as Pemetic to the native people, on one of his many journeys to New France, as the French colony in the Northeast was known. Champlain was in awe of the island’s magnificent beauty. In his journal, he mapped the island and renamed it Ile des Monts Deserts.

In the mid-1700s, the early settlers arrived and year-round communities sprung up all around Mount Desert Island. As the word spread up and down the East Coast about the grandeur of MDI in the late 1880s and early 1900s, a large summer colony became established and development took off, ushering in what became known as Bar Harbor’s golden era.

But a group of concerned citizens, worried about the threat of overdevelopment of the island’s forests, lakes, mountains and sea, fought successfully for the creation of Sieur de Monts National Monument. With great vision and many years of hard work, the founders were able to establish the first national park east of the Mississippi River, now known as Acadia National Park, to ensure that a portion of this fantastic environment would be set aside for all of us to enjoy.

Today, with the pressure to increase mega cruise ship landings and possible pier tie-ups, Mount Desert Island is again vulnerable to damage from overuse. If we want to maintain a high-quality environment for visitors and year-round and summer residents, then we must explore ways to keep over-visitation from happening or we will destroy the founders’ vision for Acadia National Park.

Limiting the number of cruise ship landings is one way to limit the number of visitors. Other ways also need to be explored.

Yes, the town of Bar Harbor should purchase the old Blue Nose Ferry Terminal property. The town would then become the owner and operator of the Town of Bar Harbor Marina. This puts the town in a position to collect fees from the cruise ship tenders unloading passengers to go on tours or buses to the downtown business district. These fees could be used to maintain the marina. The marina would help alleviate the major congestion that now occurring at the downtown waterfront during cruise ship visits.

The marina also could offer a great service for our fishing fleet and summer boat traffic. Additional parking spaces could be made available to help relieve the present downtown parking congestion. A picnic area at the site would allow residents and visitors an opportunity to have family picnics near Frenchman Bay. What a nice thought to have space to enjoy a picnic on the Bar Harbor coast available to the public.

At the turn of the 20th century, the vision was to protect Mount Desert Island from becoming overdeveloped. This lead to the establishment of Acadia National Park. At the beginning of the 21th century, we need to brainstorm and execute ideas to control over-visitation, which could undermine the plan that Charles Elliot, George Dorr and John D. Rockefeller Jr. created to preserve Acadia for future generations.

Limiting the number of cruise ship visitors is one step in right the direction of preserving the vision the founders laid out more than 100 years ago. If we do not take positive steps to control the number of visitors, we could overwhelm this precious environment.

I recommend that a task force of residents of MDI and Frenchman Bay, Friends of Acadia, representatives of Acadia National Park and town officials work collaboratively to develop a vision statement and working document to ensure the preservation of Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park for generations to come.

We cherish being able to live, work, recreate, explore, bring up our families and hold in wonder this irreplaceable island gem. We have the talent, knowledge, expertise and dedication to ensure its preservation.

The island beckons for us to help. We do not have a moment to waste.

Robert Chaplin is dedicated to the preservation of Acadia National Park and Mount Desert Island. He lives in Bar Harbor.

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