A celebration of Acadian community

By Jack Russell

Four years ago, when Cookie Horner and I harnessed up as co-chairs to enlist the Acadia Centennial Task Force, we hoped for a yearlong, community-based, world-welcoming celebration. As we near the end of this remarkable year, we salute the thousands who found their special ways to contribute to that celebration and the millions who unite in love and stewardship of Acadia. Honor to the Acadian community that made history in 2016.

In the 21st century, when global networks and transnational corporations frame much of life, special places may be an anchor of joy, wonder and community. Our beloved national park is such a place – a commons we have conceived, created and conserved together for a century. The centennial revealed the depth of this bond.

We have the privilege to thank at least some of the many who made this year. Fourteen organizations, named with pride elsewhere in this issue (See page 12), became Signature Sponsors. Their generosity was essential, of course, but their creativity was even more welcome: Acadia Day at Fenway Park, courtesy of our beloved Sox! Our time capsule to 2116, entrusted for the next century to Bar Harbor Bank & Trust! This worthy newspaper, which reported the week-by-week flow of the centennial with care throughout the year and captured scores of highlights with passion. Thank you to all Signature Sponsors!

The Acadia we love is land and water and sky, felt in intimate moments and great vistas. Acadia also is the dedicated people who care for our park every day as frontline stewards of the gift. The women and men in the green and gray welcomed an additional half million visits in 2016, interpreted the park with head and heart, tended flora and fauna, rescued injured and careless humans, kept the roads and trails in fine repair, assured law and order with a smile, assessed threats, explored possibilities and developed plans essential to our future. Bravo!

The task force we served welcomed 453 Acadia Centennial Partners, from global-profile resources such as Jackson Laboratory to scores of individuals who just love this place and wanted to contribute. Together, they have been the heart and soul of this yearlong celebration. We harbored hope that many in the Acadian community might respond if invited with respect, but our partners far exceeded our expectations. We honor them all by name elsewhere in this issue.

Many of those partners are businesses. Over one hundred of them created centennial-themed products and generously donated some of their sales revenue to Acadia.

Acting through their chambers of commerce and DART, our business partners communicated the centennial widely and, looking forward, affirmed that quality visits to Acadia are good business. We thank them all, from L.L. Bean to the Winter Harbor 5 & 10.

Our extraordinary place inspired art for decades before our park was conserved. This tide of imagination may have crested to a new high in the centennial year. Nine original choral, symphonic, chamber and brass compositions were created and performed to mark the Acadia centennial. Many artists painted and drew original works inspired by the park and centennial. Leading galleries on MDI and the mainland offered special exhibits on Acadia. The Abbe Museum’s “People of the First Light” exhibit, honors the 5,000-year Wabanaki presence in the region. Writers brought forth several new books on Acadia. Ten authors read from their works on a memorable summer evening. Christian Barter was named Acadia’s first poet laureate. At least five feature films and videos honoring the park and centennial were shown in 2016.

As proud members of the board, we also praise Friends of Acadia (FOA) for its sustained support of the centennial. FOA was the essential partner for the park. Friends widened community connections, brought strong strategic perspective, mustered thousands of staff, board and volunteer hours, performed roles not permitted to the park and was a patient bank quietly confident of repayment from willing donors.

Well before 2016, mindful that a well-executed centennial would bring more visitors, the park, FOA and many Acadia Centennial Partners worried together that we not allow our park to be overwhelmed – that rising visitation not degrade the quality of the visitor experience we want as a birthright for all. We designed a grassroots communication program for 2016 to help visitors find satisfying park experiences beyond the occasional choke points and during nonpeak hours. Social, earned, organizational and paid media helped communicate this message and the opportunities.

Acadia officials must make and implement the decisions that assure a quality experience for all Acadia visitors. The challenge is clear. Today, more than 80 million people live within a one-day drive of 47,000-acre Acadia – valued by many as America’s favorite place. New rules and a new plan are required to manage the inevitable visitation pressure. Acadia is well into the careful planning and community consultation that must inform a new plan. Our hope is that the good will between park and surrounding communities generated by the centennial can help this planning along to a successful conclusion in 2018.

Now that our own service is nearly done, some ask us what we have learned. Our short answer would be: Trust community! Embrace the great gift to live in this extraordinary place among remarkable people.

That community has been built through history. “First peoples” saw the sun rise on the dawn-greeting eastern face of Wapuwoc and knew it as the “first light.” First settlers came in from the sea and the outer islands to possess and be possessed by this island. At the moment of conservation, in 1916, Judge Luere B. Deasy asked us to stand with him on Acadia heights to feel the bonds of place and nation. During Acadia’s first century, millions came here to find and renew their sense of wonder.

Why do they return? Why have we chosen life here? Why did you give your best to this centennial celebration? Learning from you – we believe that we now know. Modern life isolates and divides us. Markets rule. We rise or stumble, alone. We reach out darkly through keyboards and screens. Even family can be fragile.

But for us, privileged to live at this amazing verge of land and sea, in the shelter of these hills, on foggy mornings and crystal nights – we know the source of this gift. Through many generations, Acadia has grown from inspired philanthropy and dedicated back labor, plot by plot and stone by stone.

Our park was created as a great work of art through more than a century by the minds and hands of thousands. We feel the heart of this gift. Our Acadia was formed by, through and from community. We embrace that tradition as we volunteer. Every partner in this centennial celebration honors and adds to this community.

Acadia is our commons, a collective creation that shows us, in every season, the best that we can be – and how, together, we may make a better world.

And that is how, now, as we struggle to meet a new national challenge and defend the very concept of community, the gift of Acadia can inspire our future.

We honor the people who passed this gift to us, and we have faith in those to whom we will pass on the promise. The centennial you created confirms that we, the people, serve on our watch. Here in Acadia, and in the wider world, we, the people, with love and community, will defend our commons.

Author, teacher, scholar, statesman and activist Jack Russell resides in the town of Mount Desert.

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