Community in the centennial of our commons

By Jack Russell and Cookie Horner

Stepping with care through pre-dawn dark across crusty snow and black ice, we hike toward our goal. Some 70 years ago, this now-iconic national heritage road was cut through the granite ocean edge below Gorham and Champlain. Honor to the visionaries who knew those wounds would heal to a beautiful ocean drive rewarding millions with views remembered for lifetimes. Equal honor to the generation of island and mainland men whose back labor, machine skills and engineering knowledge made the vision manifest – and to the CCC lads who worked with them here in the mid-1930s.

A third-quarter moon lights our way. We hike to an Otter Cliff dawn that will reveal one of the most beautiful orchestrations of nature to be found on our planet – vistas conserved for a century as Acadia.

We trekked through that night a week ago to commemorate this century of conservation at the advent of Acadia’s centennial year. That dawn has now launched a year-long, community-based, world-welcoming celebration planned by hundreds of hardworking partners. On behalf of them all, we offer perspective on the Acadia Centennial to come.

We have much to celebrate in 2016. Americans have named Acadia their favorite place. This distinct honor may pass, but love of our park and communities will endure. We can expect millions of visits in Acadia’s centennial year and for years to come. With this good fortune comes responsibility to assure that our guests enjoy a memorable experience and that our park remains “unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations” as affirmed in the first paragraph of the act that established the National Park Service, also 100 years old in 2016.

Our first expression of gratitude in this centennial year should be for the five generations of the NPS who have cared for Acadia through development, depression, fire, growth, world popularity and congressional under-funding. This is personal for us. Our park service friends have lived with us for a century. Many have come from our communities. They work hard every day to bring Acadia National Park to the world and to preserve it unimpaired. When you see the green and gray this year, please salute the uniform and thank them for their service.

In 2016, as our centennial logo states, we will “celebrate our past.” This past includes the first century of our park – and all the natural and human history now conserved in Acadia, especially the golden age during which visionaries conceived and protected this place. From 1901 to 1916, men of resolve worked together to create a public reservation that would become the first national park east of the Mississippi – and the first conserved from the lands and through the labor and love of people who protected parts of their own established communities from unwanted development.

Their vision and achievement is a heritage we serve on our watch. During the centennial year, many events, books, essays, exhibits, performances and reenactments will honor the founders of Acadia. (Find them all and much more at Please remember, with respect, how forward-thinking the founders were. As President Eliot said at their first celebration of the conservation, in August 1916, “The old lovers of the island expect to welcome many new lovers … those who come here for a few days only – or even for a single day.”

We believe that the founders would be pleased by the scope and variety of the more than 250 Acadia Centennial Partners (ACPs) who will celebrate their bond with Acadia during 2016. A visit to our centennial website will show the plans of each ACP on their own page – an inspiring symphony of museums, libraries, historical societies, chambers of commerce, gardens, laboratories, schools, colleges, magazines, artists, composers, authors, musicians, inns, B&Bs, retailers, restaurants, newspapers, broadcasters, banks, apps producers, railroads, camps, law firms, churches, theaters, publishers and many inspired individuals who want to show their love of Acadia. The ranks of ACPs can and will grow throughout 2016. If you are inspired to help, or your organization is, just call Friends of Acadia (288-3340) and ask for Stephanie Clement or visit the website above.

Three years ago, when we began planning the Acadia Centennial as a year-long, community-based celebration, we were not sure what to expect. Now, as we begin 2016, we know with gratitude that our partners will make the year to come a proud expression of all that our park and surrounding communities offer to the world. Together, with special appreciation, we thank our Acadia Centennial Signature Sponsors, whose generosity supports our affirmation: Bar Harbor Bank & Trust, JAX, “Down East,” L.L. Bean, Maine Public Broadcasting Network, Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems, The Hinckley Company, The Knowles Company, Star 97.7, Ocean Properties, the Mount Desert Islander and Darling’s. Bravo, friends!

We cannot convey here all of the hundreds of partner offerings that will honor Acadia during the centennial year, but we hope that some highlights will suggest the whole. Coming within weeks are three events not to be missed.

On Monday, Jan. 25, from 6-8 p.m. at their sixth annual Baked Bean Supper at MDI High School, the MDI Historical Society and Friends of Island History will premier a 25-minute film on the Acadia Centennial produced by Peter Logue and supported by Darling’s.

This Centennial Kickoff event also may welcome and introduce Kevin Schneider, the new ANP superintendent.

Throughout February, all five MDI libraries and those on Islesford and Swans Island and in Ellsworth, Blue Hill and Bangor will conduct a multi-event community read during which folks can gather to discuss three books born from our place: “The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light” by Paul Bogard, “Spoonhandle” by Ruth Moore and for children, “Small as an Elephant” by Jennifer Richards Jacobson.

In late February and early March, the Schoodic [email protected] and Camp Beech Cliff will partner to produce an Acadia Winter Festival of citizen science, youth education, winter sports and art inspired by the season.

At the other end of the year, our last planned event in 2016 will be a gathering of all centennial partners and friends of Acadia at the Criterion Theatre on Saturday, Dec. 10, to dedicate the Acadia Bicentennial time capsule we will send forward across a century to those who will organize the 200th birthday of our beloved park in 2116 – one of many ways our centennial will “inspire our future!”

Between these bookends, creative ACPs will offer hundreds of events and scores of products. Among them are these:

Acadia is music: six venerable choral, chamber, orchestral and brass ensembles each have commissioned and will premier an original composition to honor Acadia.

Acadia is art: our extraordinary place was first introduced to the national mind through art. During 2016, artists, galleries, libraries and museums in surrounding communities will celebrate Acadia in exhibits, art walks, paint-ins and lectures that capture the more than 150-year resonance between art and park.

Acadia is reflection – and even debate: During 2016, nine partners – COA, MDI Bio Lab, JAX, Abbe, Night Sky Festival, [email protected], FOA, MDI Historical Society and MCHT – will each offer an Acadia Centennial Lecture on the theme “Conservation in the 21st Century.”

Acadia is patriotism: the 2016 Bar Harbor Fourth of July Parade will celebrate the Acadia Centennial. Floats forward, partners!

And Acadia is Acadia: two big events in ANP, the June 25 Science in the Park Day Rededication of the Sieur de Monts Nature Center and the Aug. 27 morning celebration of the ANP and NPS centennials at Jordan Pond.

As this adventure moves from plan to celebration, we offer our humble thanks to all our partners for our core centennial lesson: History builds community. Community conserves our commons.

Jack Russell of Mount Desert and Cookie Horner of Bar Harbor are co-chairs of the Acadia Centennial Committee.


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