Mount Desert Island has always had a robust summer population going as far back as the 1800s. The first hotel in Bar Harbor was erected in 1855, according to the Bar Harbor Historical Society, and in 1868 the first “summer cottage,” was constructed, ushering in what would later be known as the Rusticator movement.
The wealthy and well-known have continued to flock to the island in the summer. From prestigious visitors such as former presidents, to those who have chosen MDI as their summer destination, many feel a strong connection to the island and, in some instances, have been coming for generations.
The summer residents pay taxes yet require few services. They support the arts and the nonprofits and provide significant support to many of the island’s economic sectors such as retail and restaurants while they are here. Seasonal residents also have a stake in the health and well-being of the communities in which they live, and it is something many take seriously, evident by the most recent news of a summer association stepping up to help the year-round community.
In Mount Desert, the businesses within the town limits will soon be getting their own stimulus package from the Summer Residents Association, a long-standing corporation designed to foster communication between the town and its summer residents. In a matter of three weeks, the SRA created a COVID-19 Relief Fund and raised more than $700,000 (and counting), which will be used to help the town’s small businesses. The SRA contributed the first $50,000 and many individuals as well as a few businesses, such as local banks, followed suit.
They did this even as many have called for out-of-staters to stay away from MDI.
But where do seasonal residents stand when it comes to having an actual standing in the community? The influx of summer residents helps to support local businesses, especially those that need to make a year’s worth of income in four months. For many sectors of Maine’s economy, it is the summer swell of both part-time residents and visitors that make year-round life possible. And, for the latter category, it is likely to be dramatically reduced or non-existent unless a change is made to Maine’s 14-day quarantine rule.
Those who own homes on MDI have the ability to quarantine as outlined in Governor Janet Mills’ executive orders. They have the resources to order in for their food and groceries and to be self-sufficient until they can safely reenter back into the community. What’s two weeks when you plan to spend three months?
So, let’s take a step back and consider welcoming the seasonal residents who plan to stay for the summer. Since the area is unlikely to see the usual influx of weekend and week-long visitors, the community can only benefit from their continued presence.