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Bar Harbor holds comp plan visioning workshops

BAR HARBOR — What do residents want for the future of Bar Harbor? That is the question driving a series of visioning workshops held this week at various locations around town.

The first of four workshops was held on Tuesday at the MDI Biological Laboratory. The workshop opened with a presentation from Steven Whitman and Liz Kelly from Resilience Planning and Design, the firm guiding the town through the planning process.

The presentation highlighted a list of issues facing Bar Harbor, including labor shortage, lack of housing, limited land for future development and the cost implications of sprawling development, overcrowding and excessive tourism, infrastructure investments to support future developments and a lack of revenue to meet the needs of the town.

Whitman introduced the draft vision statement that the Comprehensive Planning Committee had written, which states, “Bar Harbor’s vibrancy stems from the mix of people and the dramatic natural beauty of our place. Together, we build upon our diverse economic strengths and through partnerships we create solutions that meet seasonal and year-round needs. Our resilient and sustainable community includes sufficient equitable housing, robust infrastructure and efficient transportation. We work through our differences to strengthen our collective sense of community. We take care of each other, and we take care of our place.”

“[The vision statement is] intended to guide the writing of a comprehensive plan; it’s intended to guide the future land use strategy that ultimately gets picked,” said Whitman. “What are you working towards? How do you want to guide change over time? Because change will happen, and ultimately, it’s going to help provide a guiding direction for the implementation actions necessary to get you there.”

The planners presented the potential future land use strategies. Two strategies have been proposed, each with a slightly different land use layout. Both options marked town centers, residential development areas and rural areas. The land encompassed by Acadia National Park was also marked as protected land.

The first future land use option showed downtown Bar Harbor, Hulls Cove, and Town Hill as the village centers, with the immediate surrounding areas marked for future residential development. The downtown area would continue to be the mix of commercial and residential use that it is now, but with an emphasis on resource protection, walkability and green spaces as it continues to grow. Hulls Cove and Town Hill have some of the infrastructure to support more development, but not as much as the downtown, and would therefore be less densely populated.

The second future land use option largely resembled the first, but with two additional development areas. On this map, Hadley Point and Salsbury Cove were included as potential residential development areas in addition to the three areas marked in the first option. These areas have the road infrastructure to support additional residential development but would likely be more sparsely populated than the existing residential areas due to limited sewer and water infrastructure. Small-scale commercial activity, which already exists in these villages, was also seen as a use for these areas that could grow over time.

The land outside of the future development areas is marked as the rural area in town. Suggested uses included protection of land and natural resources to preserve visual aesthetics, agricultural, forested and ecologically significant areas.

Attendees participated in an interactive group activity to share their own ideas with the planners. Residents were split up into eight groups and were encouraged to talk about their thoughts on the draft vision statement and proposed future land use strategies.

The consensus from the groups was that the vision statement was slightly too vague and needed stronger wording. Residents noted that there should be more specific language about the protection of the year-round community, sustainability and protection of natural resources.

Groups one through seven agreed on future land use strategies, and selected option two as the best choice for Bar Harbor’s future, with development in Hadley Point and Salsbury Cove. Many participants said that they felt that growing development in these areas was inevitable, and that adding to the downtown and residential areas of those villages was a logical step in Bar Harbor’s development.

While most participants favored option two, there was concern about the existing infrastructure in those areas. Nearly all the groups agreed that if development is to grow in those areas, work should be done first to improve water and sewer capacity, which many worried could not accommodate growth in its current state. There was also concern about overcrowding, and an acknowledgement that Mount Desert Island has finite space, and development should not exceed the limits of the island.

Group eight was the only group that favored option one as a future land use strategy. Members of this group felt that the limit for development was already being reached, and that any more could cause a strain on the rural nature of Bar Harbor. The group suggested preserving the town’s existing development and keeping any growth to areas that have been developed already.

Another workshop was held on Tuesday evening at Atlantic Brewing Company, and two more were held on Wednesday at the Bar Harbor Municipal Building and the Conners Emerson School. The same material was presented to participants at all four workshops.

Seasonal hiring again challenging for Acadia

ACADIA NAT’L PARK — Acadia’s 120 miles of hiking trails don’t maintain themselves.

That’s why the park needs to hire seasonal employees to do that work between May and October. But it has gotten harder to fill all the openings in recent years.

As of Monday afternoon, the park still had 15 openings for trail workers at an hourly rate of $20.01.

There were also seven openings for general maintenance workers. The starting pay for those jobs is $17.78 per hour.

A few more motor vehicle operators, laborers and wildlife technicians are also on the park’s seasonal employment wish list.

Each year, the park tries to hire between 150 and 165 seasonal workers. Last year, it fell about 35 employees short of the lower of those two numbers. And it now appears that the number of vacancies this year will be about the same, if not slightly higher.

Acadia Superintendent Kevin Schneider addressed the seasonal hiring challenge earlier this year.

“When we think about competing against other local entities or local businesses for hiring, we are facing some pretty significant headwinds because our pay isn’t necessarily any higher,” he said.

Acadia officials don’t set the pay scale for employees; that is set at the national level.

The lack of housing for seasonal park employees is another obstacle to hiring.

“We can have great people applying for our seasonal positions, but we need to be able to offer them housing, unless they have a place to live here locally, which is the exception,” Schneider said.

Also making seasonal hiring more difficult, he said, is the cumbersome application process.

“Applying for a federal job is very complicated; it takes a lot of time. A federal resume is very different from what would be required for a private sector job; it’s very extensive. And you have to have a background investigation to be a federal employee.”

That is true even for someone who cleans toilets in a national park campground or works on a trail crew.

CAT trips start this week

BAR HARBOR — The CAT Ferry begins its 2023 season on Thursday, May 25, offering travel between Bar Harbor and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia.

The ferry will operate on Sundays, Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays from its opening voyage through June 26. From June 29 to Sept. 4, the ferry will make daily voyages. Beginning on Sept. 7, the ferry will sail on Sunday, Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday until its last trip of the season on Oct. 9.

The ferry departs from Yarmouth at 9:30 a.m. Atlantic Standard Time and departs from Bar Harbor at 3 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time. The voyage is roughly three and a half hours and is available to passengers traveling with or without vehicles.

None of the passenger fares have increased since last year. Fares for adults aged 14-59 are $115 one way and $220 round trip. For those over 60, the fare is $110 for one way, $210 for round trip. The fare for children ages 7-13 is $70 one way, $125 round trip, and children 6 and under travel for free.

Vehicles with a length of under 20 feet and a height of less than 7 feet cost $199 to board the ferry. Vehicles higher than 7 feet, longer than 20 feet or vehicles towing trailers cost $99 to $100 for every extra 10 feet up to 50 feet. Motorcycles cost $110, with additional fees for sidecars and trailers, and all bicycles cost $20.

This is the second year that Bay Ferries Limited is operating out of Bar Harbor after returning in the summer of 2022. Service from Bar Harbor to Nova Scotia began in 1997 and continued until 2009 when the ferry began operating out of Portland.

Service to Portland stopped in 2018, and a return to Bar Harbor was planned in 2019, but construction complications and the COVID-19 pandemic delayed things until 2022.

“Things went very well for our return to Bar Harbor,” said Mark Wilson, senior vice president of Bay Ferries Limited. “It’s great for us to be back in Bar Harbor, it makes for a quicker journey across. The distance of the sailing is less than from Portland so we’re able to leave at a reasonable time from Yarmouth and then leave from Bar Harbor at a reasonable time to get back.”

For the 2022 season, the CAT carried 14,972 vehicles and 36,151 individual passengers over the course of 113 round trips. As of May 2, Bay Ferries had sold 14,556 tickets for the 2023 season. This represents an increase of 5,368 passengers booked over the 9,188 passengers who had been booked last season as of May 2, 2022.

The CAT carries many international passengers, although American travelers make up the majority of its customers.

“We’ve got customers from as far away as Holland, Spain, Germany, England, Australia, France, Norway and Ireland,” Wilson said.

With so many international passengers, Bay Ferries Limited is looking forward to post-pandemic travel. Travel to Canada had been tricky during the pandemic, but restrictions have since been lifted and travel regulations are back to normal.

“Last year, because of COVID, there was an ArriveCAN app that people had to fill out online before crossing the border. There’s no border restrictions this year,” Wilson said. “We’re looking forward to that because of the ease of crossing the border for all of our customers.”

Town wants Acadia land for water access

MOUNT DESERT — To some, it might seem like a quixotic quest: Town officials want Acadia National Park to give back about 3,000 square feet of land in the village of Otter Creek to improve access to a dock and boat launch on Otter Creek Cove.

As it is, anyone towing a boat or a trailer for kayaks must turn around on Grover Avenue and back down a 10-foot-wide gravel driveway about 270 feet to the boat ramp because there is nowhere at the bottom of the driveway for a vehicle to turn around. The driveway is bordered on both sides by Acadia National Park property.

Some Otter Creek residents have complained for years, if not decades, about the difficulty of accessing the boat ramp and dock.

The Select Board earlier this year authorized the hiring of G.F. Johnston & Associates civil engineers to assess the situation and recommend ways that access might be improved.

Greg Johnston and his team developed what he called two “most probable” solutions. One was to create a loop so that vehicles would go down one way and come back another.

“The loop concept requires an Acadia National Park land swap,” Johnston wrote in his report. “The area including excavation and grading would encompass approximately 14,300 square feet in land exchange. A loop concept … requires significant vegetation removal, excavation and wall construction.”

The second option for improving access to the dock and boat ramp would be simpler and take up less space. It would involve creating a space at the bottom of the driveway where a vehicle could turn around, back a boat or trailer up to the ramp and then drive forward out to Grover Avenue.

“It will still take a pretty skilled trailer operator to make that turn,” Public Works Director Brian Henkel told the Select Board. “It’s still going to be a difficult proposition for people to come and launch boats and a pretty significant expense [for the town].”

This option also would require the use of some of what is currently Acadia property.

“The area including excavation and grading would encompass approximately 3,000 square feet in land exchange,” Johnston said.

He said this concept would require the approval of several state and federal agencies but, “We believe it would be successful.”

Town Manager Durlin Lunt said that instead of a land swap, he would like Acadia to give 3,000 square feet of property to the town. Noting that the dock and boat ramp are “virtually nonfunctional,” he said, “The reason they are nonfunctional is that a century ago the town government was either inadequate or indifferent to the village of Otter Creek.

“You had a working harbor there with people fishing, clamming, doing all sorts of things. And the town allowed the entire side of the harbor to become totally federalized.”

Lunt noted that private property owners gave land along the harbor to Acadia.

“But I think the town officials could have used the town’s powers to ensure that enough of that land would be retained by the town so that it never got to the point where the entire village was essentially shut off from access to the harbor.

“We are not asking to take back that entire side of Otter Creek harbor,” he said. “But I think it is very fair and very reasonable that we ask to have 3,000 square feet of that area returned to us to make a functional facility.

“A century of wrongs needs to be corrected.”

The Select Board voted to authorize Lunt “to work with Friends of Acadia, the Acadia National Park Advisory Commission, our congressional delegation and anyone else who would listen to ask that those 3,000 square feet be returned to us.”

Island women start traveling sauna business

MOUNT DESERT ISLAND — A selkie is a mythological creature that can shapeshift between seal and human forms. They are said to swim as seals in the daylight, shed their seal skin at night and gather in human form under the moonlight. Selkie Sauna, a new business owned by 13 island women, is named for the mythical beings.

The traveling cedar barrel-style, wood-fired sauna, designed by West Virginia-based manufacturer Almost Heaven Saunas, is now available for day and multiday rentals, private hour-long sessions and community sauna hours.

Fitted on a trailer, the sauna can be parked in communal locations with scenic overlooks or rented and placed in the privacy of a backyard or driveway. The business emphasizes cold-water dipping as a complement to the sauna and provides a cold-water dipping pool if the sauna is placed away from a natural water source.

Much like selkies, the women who began Selkie Sauna spend a lot of time in the water and enjoy gathering near the water to spend time together. Known as Cold Tits Warm Hearts, their group is dedicated to swimming in the waters on and surrounding MDI year-round.

Joanna Fogg, Gail Gladstone, Puranjot Kaur and Lily Anderson are all long-time members of the swimming group and owners of Selkie Sauna. The idea for the sauna came naturally “because we were cold,” Fogg joked.

The group is known to swim throughout the winter, treading ocean water in 30-degree weather and cutting swimming holes in ice-covered lakes. When they began brainstorming the sauna two summers ago, it quickly became clear that it would be a game changer. “We pretty much got to this place where we were like, ‘we cannot go through another winter without a sauna,’” said Kaur.

“To have this warm hearth and a center to come to and take your time and be warm, it just really enhances the level of connection and community, and it really felt centering,” said Fogg.

In the past, the cold limited the time the swimmers could spend together after their dips. Now, the sauna allows them to continue to connect outside and welcome more people in.

The sauna came as a kit from Almost Heaven, and building it began in December 2022. The process took only two weekends. The team then retrofitted the sauna onto a trailer so they could bring it to all their favorite dipping spots.

This Mother’s Day weekend marked the first community sauna day and Selkie Sauna’s beginning as a commercial business.

“The idea of hosting community saunas during the winter was always something that was chatted about,” Anderson said. “The idea was to maybe make cold water something a little warmer and accessible to people who are nervous about it.”

The idea of turning it into a business came about for many reasons, one of which was to recoup the investment each of the swimmers had made. Of the 23 investors, 13 signed onto the limited liability company and are working together to host community saunas and organize private rentals.

So far, community saunas have been held at Hadley Point Beach and Pond’s End on Long Pond. At both locations, community members signed up for hour-long sessions. During each session, people move freely between the cold water, surrounded by the sounds of nature and the crackling fire, and bubbling steam of the hot sauna. Essential oils are provided to create inviting, relaxing aromas, and the scenery can be enjoyed through glass windows.

The group reports the business is a success so far. “People are so happy, they are just loving it,” Fogg said. “Yes, saunas make people happy,” added Gladstone.

With temperatures in the 60s and a northwesterly wind blowing 10-15 knots, MDI Trojans Alex Donahue and Charlotte Stanley tack downwind in boat 5 in the Pen Bay League Regatta May 6.