Acadia friends group touts successes

BAR HARBOR — Friends of Acadia board Chairman Ed Samek noted that the organization had a very successful year and accomplished “incredible work,” during remarks at the group’s 28th annual meeting on July 8.

That success was due, he said, to staff, volunteers and members working together as “team FOA,” a phrase that was echoed in the remarks of President David MacDonald, Conservation Director Stephanie Clement and Acadia Superintendent Sheridan Steele.

Samek stressed that FOA is not replacing the National Park Service. Rather, it works with the park “to create solutions and get the job done.” Two areas he specifically he mentioned were congestion and climate change. He also announced that since 1995, FOA has donated $21.5 million to Acadia.

Treasurer Michael Cook, who is stepping down this year, reported that FOA’s net assets increased by slightly over $2.3 million. Grants to the park and neighboring communities totaled $1.4 million. Of this amount, almost $1 million funded park projects, including $317,378 and $215,000 for maintaining the trails and carriage roads, respectively. In 2014, to protect natural resources, FOA funded two new programs: inventorying the Cromwell Brook watershed and “protecting the rooftop of Acadia,” the Cadillac summit. FOA grants supported activities of 21 other groups such as the Wild Gardens of Acadia, Volunteer Program, Acadia Youth Conservation Corps, Take Pride in Acadia Day and planning for the 2016 centennial.

Clement reported that 2,473 people volunteered a total of 14,891 hours to projects in Acadia, including maintaining trails, carriage roads and the Wild Gardens of Acadia, grooming winter trails, stewarding land and other resources, and planning and staffing events.

With support from Canon, volunteers and staff monitored water quality at Jordan Pond. Canon also supported management of 16 invasive plants. Staff and interns surveyed 600 acres and updated management data. During the Night Sky Festival, approximately 2,000 people turned out to view night stars on Cadillac with another 300 at Seawall. Total attendance at the Festival approached 5,000, said Clement.

Last year was another banner year for the Island Explorer: The buses carried 503,000 riders, and in July carried more than 8,000 passengers on two days. “If all the cars and RVs that the Island Explorer has kept off the road since 1999 were placed back to back, we’d have a 3,654-mile traffic jam stretching from Bar Harbor all the way down the coast to the Florida Keys, up the west side of Florida through Alabama, past New Orleans, Houston and San Antonio almost to Tucson,” said Clement. In 2014, the traffic jam stopped at Summit, AZ.

With funding from L.L. Bean and other donors, FOA contributed $25,000 to the Schoodic Education Adventure, an overnight educational program for middle-school students, a program that brought 545 students and teachers from 20 New England schools to Schoodic.

The Youth Technology team explored using QR codes to help visitors learn.

In 2014, the Acadia Youth Conservation Corps employed 16 people to work with park crews to restore the Gorge Path and the Asticou and Jordan Pond Paths. Ridge runners brought the Leave No Trace message to 5,460 visitors. They also received search and rescue training, mapped social trails on Little Moose Island and installed a wildlife camera along the Schoodic Park Loop Road to count bicycle use.

Calling the winter here a “doozy” with more than 100 inches of snow, Clement said that 11 volunteer groomers contributed more than 400 hours packing, rolling and tracking the carriage roads for cross-country skiers.

Steele focused on what for him constitutes Good Days and Bad Days. Clearly, a good day was welcoming the eight teachers who participated in the Teacher-Ranger-Teacher program. This FOA-funded program allows teachers to spend six weeks being a ranger, working with park staff, leading interpretative programs, developing curriculum and writing lessons plans on incorporating field-based data into science lessons and integrating field visits into classroom art and science activities.

When Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell visited Acadia last August, she singled out this program as an effective way of ensuring that young people connect to and are inspired by nature and the outdoors.

Other good days include seeing volunteers at work, realizing the success of SERC (Schoodic Education and Research Center), welcoming more than 1,500 young people as new junior rangers and viewing the changes occurring at Schoodic as a result of the new campground that is expected to open in fall.

But there were clearly some bad days: fewer dollars when the federal budget is announced, which makes providing a quality visitor experience more challenging; the threat of a government shutdown when it appears that Congress cannot agree on a budget; three cruise ships in one day and 15 buses on Cadillac at the same time. To address traffic congestion, the park is developing a transportation plan with input from all stakeholders.

In his closing remarks, MacDonald echoed Steele’s remarks. “We are working at an historic time for Acadia.” In addition to thanking sponsors of the Acadia centennial initiative, he urged members to stay involved and to come to next year’s annual meeting on July 8, on Acadia’s 100th anniversary.

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