by BETH ALTENA
If you haven’t seen me around town lately, it is because I and my husband Bill have been on vacation to our favorite home away from home, Maine. We drive each year to an island called Mount Desert, which has lovely small towns with wharfs, shopping and dining to enjoy. The island is also home to a great national treasure, Acadia National Park. Acadia is 47,000 acres of windswept shoreline, mountains, carriage road and waterfalls offering endless opportunities to explore breathtakingly beautiful scenery and wildlife.
We began visiting Maine 20 years ago this fall on our honeymoon. I was struck with the desire to go there, as I had just read “The Cider House Rules” by John Irving (“Good night you princes of Maine, you kings of New England”). We fell in love with the island and all it has to offer. About 10 years ago we began going back with our two boys and a friend each for them to hang out with. This year was our second solo vacation as the kids are grown up enough to have schedules of their own to keep that don’t include a trip out east with mom and dad.
We stay each year at the same campground after exploring all of them over the years. Our favorite is the Bar Harbor Campground with views of the ocean, acres of wild blueberries and private wooded campsites. We stay at the same site, L7, with a tent nestled among the pines and ferns. This year we had odd neighbors, who set up their pop-up in the spot next to ours and proceeded to surround their campsite with a wall of bed sheets. We weren’t sure why they did this, if they wanted more privacy, had an excitable dog or were walking around naked in there. If anyone has any ideas, I’d love to hear them.
We’ve hiked every mountain in Acadia, easy day trips with paths marked by blue paint or cairns. We also bike the miles of carriage roads, where motorized vehicles are not allowed but horse-drawn carriages are common.
Fishing is another reason we love the island, and divide our fishing time between several wharfs where we catch mackerel and Pollock, and a lobster and fishing boat, the Vagabond, captained by Captain John Ditmar and his son Charlie. The boat is moored in Southwest Harbor on the island. This year Barbara was one of the crew and we caught cod, cunner and Pollack. In years past, we have caught Cusk, an eel-like fish that is excellent to eat as well as oddities as ravenfish, sculpin and once, a shark.
Acadia has been home to Native Americans as long as 6,000 years ago and has abundant seafood and wildlife. It became a destination for rich New Yorkers and prestigious business and political people in the late 1800s. They began building elaborate homes and compounds on the island, which they called cottages. Early seasonal residents included families of the Rockafellers, Morgans, Vanderbilts, Carnegies and Astors.
As the area grew as a hotspot for the wealthy, some grew alarmed at the rate of development, and in 1901 a trust was created to preserve the land for public use. Donated land was the original 6,000 acres of park. Acadia’s prominence as vacationland for the rich was strong for nearly 50 more years until the Great Depression and World War II slowed its booming business. A devastating fire in 1947 destroyed many of the “cottages” and marked the end of an era for Acadia.
Today the park and towns on Mount Desert Island are still visited by millions each summer and inhabited by a handful of year-round residents. The towns, especially Bar Harbor, have lovely restaurants, often right on the Atlantic, music outdoors and shops. Day trips include our favorite on the Vagabond, where we fish, watch seals and on the way back in, Captain John pulls a lobster trap for each customer and they can keep anything legal inside (we ended up with three lobsters this year).
There are also whale-watching trips, kayaking, two lobstering and lobster museums, tours and a hands-on touching tank at the College of
the Atlantic, an Acadia Park visitor center, ocean (very cold) or inland swimming, and sightseeing.
The highest spot on the east coast and the place in the United States where the morning sun can first be seen is Cadillac Mountain with an elevation of 1,530 feet. We have seen bicyclists make the ride up, but prefer to drive up since we aren’t insane (at least not insane enough to bike up that).
You can also take nature and sightseeing boat rides or ferries to the many islands along the coast. One year we took one and learned our captain was the principal of the local high school. He showed us some of the huge estates that remain on the island. One was built by a man for his bride, who was scheduled to arrive on the maiden voyage of the Titanic. Another survived the fire of ’47 because the caretaker kept the fire at bay with water while his own home burned to the ground. A four-mast schooner, the Margaret Todd, offers dinner and sunset cruises.
I would never recommend leaving Rockford for summer fun, but if you do decide to get out of town, Acadia takes about 24 hours of driving to reach. Be prepared to spend more than a few days, whether you visit for the shopping, eating, hiking, biking or any other activity that makes you happy. Don’t forget your camera and take a copy of The Rockford Squire so we can put your picture in the paper onceyou get back. E-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org.