SOUTHWEST HARBOR—Worried about possible future constraints on private and public property, selectmen voted Tuesday to submit a letter to the Maine Historic Preservation Commission outlining several concerns regarding a nomination of the Mount Desert Island Hiking Trail System to the National Register of Historic Places.
Notices regarding this nomination were previously sent a year ago, on April 17, 2020, to each town on Mount Desert Island regarding the nomination. That was a month after nearly all public events were shut down due to COVID-19. Selectmen and the Bar Harbor Town Council were trying to figure out how to continue meeting via Zoom, among other pressing town business, and may not have had time to review these notices.
“To ensure all program requirements were met, the earlier nomination process was suspended,” according to a notice from the Maine Historic Preservation Commission sent to each town at the end of March. “The current letter and this supplemental information restart the nomination process… The Mount Desert Island Hiking Trail System nomination includes trails within the authorized boundary of Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island and continuous segments of trails that extend beyond the park boundary.”
Although a map of the trail system was provided with the letter from the state, the trail markings around the entire island are so small that members of the Board of Selectmen and interim Town Manager Dana Reed all admitted to having difficulty distinguishing what was park property, town property and private property.
“It would seem with such an important project they could provide us with a better map,” said Reed. “We don’t even know if it affects any town-owned properties… I do believe it includes the trail by the pump station (on Long Pond). What effect does that have if the town needs to expand the pump station? It leaves more questions than answers.”
According to the notice to towns, the MDI Hiking Trail System documents 110 historic maintained trails covering approximately 117 miles and includes 18 plaques and rock monuments that recognize trail builders, identify trails or memorialize certain sites. It extends across five municipalities, including Bar Harbor, Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert, Tremont and Gouldsboro. The notice also states the trails indicated on the provided map represent the nominated property boundary and the boundary for each trail is a width of 75 feet to either side of the treadway. To be clear, at least a total width of 150 feet of property along each trail will be part of the National Register for Historic Places if the nomination passes.
“I really don’t know what we’re talking about beyond the park,” said board member Carolyn Ball during Tuesday night’s meeting.
“I have a concern about how it might constrain the development of private property,” said board chairman Kristin Hutchins. “How is this going to constrain what I can do with my property because it is designated as such?”
Dan Norwood, who is the only candidate running for the board seat soon to be vacated by Hutchins, asked Reed, “Dana, are you saying if the town doesn’t object then it’s just going to be listed?”
Reed wasn’t certain that was the case, but it was what he could recall of this nomination process from previous experience.
“You definitely should object until you get further detail,” said Norwood.
When the topic was brought before the Bar Harbor Town Council during its April 6 meeting via Zoom, there were few questions and unanimous support for the designation. Council member Jill Goldthwait asked Town Manager Cornell Knight if he saw any issues in supporting the nomination.
“No, not at all,” said Knight in response. “Many of the trails are within Bar Harbor town limits, it’s probably a good idea for the council to say you support such a designation.”
Town Council Chairman Jeff Dobbs asked if the designation would make applying for grant money for trail maintenance more possible.
“It could potentially set up federal grant money, but you have to apply for that,” said council member Erin Cough. “So, it just gives a certain designation. It also creates a protective status, as well, so that if there’s anything that has to happen, it has to go through a different type of review.”
Members of the Tremont Board of Selectmen are scheduled to discuss the subject at a meeting Tuesday, April 20. It is not clear when the town of Mount Desert will discuss the nomination. When the Gouldsboro Board of Selectmen meet on April 15 the subject is slated to be on the agenda.
In the letter to each town from the state’s historic preservation officer, towns are asked to submit their comments to that office prior to the April 23 meeting in which the Maine Historic Preservation Commission will consider the nomination.