For a century, the communities of Mount Desert Island and the rest of Hancock County have been blessed by the presence of a national treasure in our midst. Since it was born in 1916 when President Woodrow Wilson announced the creation of Sieur de Monts National Monument, Acadia National Park has grown exponentially to become one of the most visited parks in the National Park Service system. And today, the park makes an immense contribution to the economy of MDI and the surrounding “gateway region.”
With this week’s editions of the Mount Desert Islander and The Ellsworth American, readers will find a 48-page supplement providing a wealth of information about Acadia: its history, its geography, its myriad attributes, its people and the challenges it faces in the future. But even such a compilation barely scratches the surface in explaining just how important the park has become to MDI, Hancock County and Maine.
The strength of Acadia comes from the often dramatic confrontation between the Atlantic Ocean and Maine’s rockbound coast. The resulting spectacular scenery abounds almost everywhere within the park’s borders – on MDI, on nearby Schoodic peninsula and on Isle au Haut, about six miles off Stonington. Acadia now totals some 44,000 acres. More than two-and-a-half million visitors a year travel here to experience its wonders.
As an economic driver, the park has an enormous impact. Many year-round businesses here in Hancock County simply would not exist without the massive infusion of revenue that comes each year over the five months from June through October. Those five months spell the difference between success and failure each business year. A report produced in April 2015 by the park service estimated that visitors to Acadia spent near $248 million within a 60-mile radius of the park. Employment provided by the park itself is a mere drop in the bucket when contrasted against revenues resulting from other spending categories: hotels and other accommodations, restaurants and bars, camping fees, groceries and takeout meals, gasoline and related products, local transportation, admission charges and fees, and souvenirs and other purchases. The study estimated that visitor spending last year translated into 3,900 jobs.
The growth of the park has not come without challenges.
In 1947, a fire of undetermined origin raged across MDI for nearly two weeks, destroying 17,000 acres of forest – more than 10,000 acres within the park borders – as well as 170 homes and five large hotels. But over time, the trees of Acadia have regenerated and matured, restoring much of the scenic splendor lost in the fire.
Gifts of property to Acadia continued to mount during the second half of the last century, when the expansion of park borders on MDI generated enough controversy that final boundaries were established by Congress in 1986. Even so, the park’s presence and vitality continue to attract significant gifts. Just last year, to celebrate his own 100th birthday, David Rockefeller presented 1,000 acres around Little Long Pond to the Mount Desert Land and Garden Preserve. And later in the year, the 1,400-acre Schoodic Woods Campground in Winter Harbor was presented to the National Park Foundation by a New Hampshire land company and a private family foundation.
Thanks in no small part to the popularity of our national park, Maine has become the well-identified “vacationland” proclaimed on its automobile license plates. Even as our large, resource-based industries continue to decline, the unparalleled delights of Acadia continue to bring millions of people to Maine each year, providing a massive economic contribution month after month, year after year.
Long live this crown jewel among America’s national park system!