“There is nothing so American as our national parks. … The fundamental idea behind the parks … is that the country belongs to the people.” – President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Our national park system emerged in 1916 from a collective effort to save natural, historic and recreational areas as part of a single system managed by the federal government. Today, over 450 parks, monuments and preserves covering 84 million acres exist in all 50 states and U.S. territories. That is a lot of preservation.
And that carries huge costs. As more and more people embrace our national parks system, the burdens on the parks grow. Maine’s Acadia, like Utah’s Zion, is a priceless gem, but has limits.
Unlike expansive parks in much of the West, Acadia must entertain a projected three million visitors annually on a small island in a very short visitor season. The strains are apparent, with heavy traffic on both park and non-park roads, limited parking within the national park itself and stressed transportation infrastructure in the host communities around Acadia.
In some of Canada’s western national parks, parking is expansive, welcoming. The roads are wide, open. The experience is positive even as throngs of tour bus visitors pour into shared space. Assuring that Acadia can welcome these visitors 20 years, 50 years or a second centennial anniversary from now with the same zeal will prove to be a daunting challenge as funds become harder to find under increasing national park pressure.
And unlike western parks in both the U.S. and Canada, which have boundless acres, numerous access points and scenic vistas, the land-based points of access and enjoyment of Acadia are constrained by island and coastal geography. Perhaps it is time to encourage more visitors to arrive by sea.
In fact, during Acadia’s Centennial year, it may be worth looking back to how most visitors arrived on Mount Desert Island 100 years in the past — by ship. Regular ferry runs from rail terminals in Rockland and at Hancock Point brought visitors directly to MDI via wharfs in Tremont, Southwest Harbor, Northeast Harbor, Seal Harbor and Bar Harbor.
Why not make Acadia — and by default the region — a mariner’s destination and departure point for adventures? Nothing exceeds the spirit and well-being found on Acadia’s islands and the surrounding coastal communities.
Increased opportunities to come to Acadia and Mount Desert Island by water might help ensure that access is maintained for all.
Let’s not just share the road; share the sea.