President’s Message: Shut Down but Not Out
By David R. MacDonald
Fall/Winter 2013 Friends of Acadia Journal
I’m sorry,” the Bar Harbor resident told Acadia’s chief ranger Stuart West at a public forum during the government shutdown that forced Acadia’s closure in early October, “but I can’t stay out of the park. It is part of who I am.” She continued, “I am not taking my daily bike ride out of disrespect for you or the law. I am not making a political statement through an act of civil disobedience. I just need Acadia to make me whole as a person, as a mom, and as a teacher.”
Yes, the shutdown caused confusion, frustration, and real economic impact here in our community during the two-week period that saw our trailheads, parking lots, and motor roads gated off while the autumn foliage peaked under brilliant sunny skies.
But it was also a time of rare and vivid clarity as to the importance of Acadia to many people’s lives and livelihoods.
Another community member wrote on Facebook: “Thank you George Dorr! With the government shut down, I can now imagine what this wonderful island would feel like if you and your colleagues had not purchased all that private land that would become ours, in the form of Acadia National Park. We would never have such easy access to the shoreline, the mountains, the lakes and streams of Mount Desert Island. Thanks, too, to our National Park Service stewards and Friends of Acadia, who have provided access to Acadia for nearly a century.”
Here at Friends of Acadia, one of the advantages to being a an independent and nonprofit organization was that none of our employees were furloughed—in fact, our office ranks swelled as we provided extra desk space for several of FOA’s seasonal employees who could not report for their usual duties within the park.
But at a critical time of year for wrapping up fieldwork, planning and budgeting for the coming year, and serving the visiting public during the increasingly popular fall season, it was impossible to do our jobs fully without our essential partners at the National Park Service.
The skeleton crew of a dozen or so rangers who stayed on duty to ensure public safety did an exemplary job in the unenviable task of politely asking people to stay out of their beloved park. They interpreted the orders from Washington with a healthy dose of common sense, respect for the surrounding communities, and appreciation for what makes Acadia so unique. I heard from many visitors who reported enjoying their time in the park more than ever during the shutdown, due to the absence of motor vehicles and a quieter, more peaceful atmosphere in which to enjoy Sand Beach or Otter Cliffs—as well as the satisfaction from having to work just a bit harder to get there!
While several meetings, events, and visits were cancelled, one important gathering did proceed on schedule. On October 7th, Friends of Acadia convened an initial conversation among 50 or so local residents and organizations concerning how to help celebrate Acadia’s centennial in 2016. On a dark and drizzly morning during the height of the political standoff in Washington, we were overwhelmed with the energy and ideas in the room, the creativity and optimism, and most importantly, the sense of pride and ownership that our community feels for Acadia. Stay tuned and look for opportunities to join the planning for what should be a historic celebration of Acadia’s first one hundred years, and the launch of a second century of conservation and inspiration.
A few weeks later, that same palpable sense of community stewardship was evident at our annual Take Pride in Acadia event. The park was open by this time, and while the shutdown was barely mentioned if at all, there was a sense of increased appreciation for the magnificent setting in which the nearly 400 volunteers worked, as well as a collective but unspoken message to the carriage roads, to the park founders, and to the park staff: Don’t worry, we’ve got your back.
And as the first snowflakes fall on Acadia this week and our volunteers shift their attention from raking the carriage roads to grooming them for cross-country skiing, all of us at Friends of Acadia want to express our appreciation for the commitment and support that all of you provide to make our work possible.