Bienvenue, bienvenida, willkommen to Acadia

An increasing number of tourists from countries around the world visit Acadia National Park and Mount Desert Island every year.

While modest in the past, the percentage of visitors from Europe and Asia now joining those from Canada and Mexico at national parks nationwide is increasing.

Park officials have discussed how better to accommodate these visitors, but little evidence of any changes on the ground is in evidence. One immediate way to provide a better welcome in Acadia and surrounding communities would be to include messages in multiple languages on key signs. That would go a long way toward helping visitors remain safe or avoid circumstances that are culturally unfamiliar, and also signal respect and appreciation for folks from really far away.

A recent incident on Bar Island in Acadia this summer illustrates how language barriers affect behavior. An Asian family was unable to read the town-installed sign at the foot of Bridge Street in Bar Harbor indicating that the sand bar to the island is underwater at high tide. The sign is not equipped with an obvious trigger word such as “Warning!” nor is it designed in a color that might signify an important safety message.

The group of 12, including three small children and several pet dogs, became stranded on the island by the incoming water. Depending on when they crossed, they could have been stuck there for eight to 10 hours.

Because it was during the day and the weather was not bad, there was little likelihood of any real harm from the experience. Still, rangers brought them back by boat, out of concern primarily for the children.

The top five languages by native speaker in the world are Mandarin, Spanish, English, Hindi and Arabic. After Canada and Mexico, most international visitors to national parks nationwide come from England, France, Holland, Japan and Germany.

Certainly it would be impractical to include more than a couple other languages on key signs. And some of Bar Harbor’s welcome signs already include that salutation in French acknowledging the area’s large number of visitors from Quebec. Exploring how to expand that approach is warranted. The use of technology to provide translations or information via wireless devices might be explored.

While many people now speak more than one language, the odds of a better visitor experience improve with a broader selection, even though a visitor’s native tongue may not be represented. To truly welcome people to Mount Desert Island and Acadia, we probably should be saying “bienvenue,” “bienvenida,” “willkommen” and “yokoso,” as well as “welcome.”

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