President’s Message: Silver Linings
By David R. MacDonald
Spring 2014 Friends of Acadia Journal
Each year, my daughter and I take a bike trip through Acadia National Park. We pack our sleeping bags and gear on our bikes and spend a Saturday winding through the carriage roads of Acadia, before pitching tent at Blackwoods Campground. Even though it’s only about ten miles from home, it always feels like a complete getaway, especially as night falls and the campground becomes a world unto itself. As the stars come out and the campfires crackle, we hear families from near and far sharing stories of their day in Acadia and excitedly making plans for tomorrow.
This past fall we did not take our annual trip—due in part to the government shutdown that shuttered Acadia in October, but also in part to Eliza throwing herself into her first weeks of high school. While our family tends to enjoy Acadia on an almostdaily basis, I missed that deeper experience in the park that an overnight camping trip affords.
But hope springs eternal in this new season following a beautiful, snowy winter. And as maddening and costly as the shutdown was, it just may prove to have a silver lining—or two. Last year’s painful closures of the park motor roads forced by sequestration and the shutdown opened my eyes to the glories of pedaling Acadia’s famed Loop Road largely car-free. Taking our bike trip in the quieter spring this year will mean that Eliza and I can chart some new routes without concern for the cars and motor coaches that fill the park in summer and fall. And I know that many other bikers and walkers will join me in enjoying the historic roadways and magnificent vistas under our own steam this spring, even before the gates swing open for cars.
The other silver lining of the shutdown appears to stem from the widespread public outcry during those two weeks in October. People everywhere, including in Acadia, let their elected officials know how important national parks are to our lives, and more than 30,000 stories in the media focused on the impact felt by communities like ours— making parks the most visible public storyline of the shutdown. This year, Acadia’s budget has been “restored” to 2012 levels, and the damaging sequestration cuts have been eliminated. We hope that this isn’t a one-time bounce, but that elected officials in Washington will continue to see the vital importance of funding national parks.
Friends of Acadia continues to work in close partnership with local businesses and as part of a national coalition to be a voice for Acadia and to ensure that parks do not again fall victims to budget brinksmanship as we plan for 2015 and beyond. Federal funding from Congress must match public sentiment that caring for these national treasures is among the most fundamental and sound investments that our nation can make. We are encouraged by the emphasis placed on national parks in President Obama’s 2015 budget, released in March, which proposed increased funding for park operations, infrastructure, and new programs leading up to the Park Service’s centennial in 2016.
In addition to our advocacy work, you can be assured that Friends of Acadia will also continue to invest our members’ generous contributions to fund groundbreaking projects that add a margin of excellence to the management of Acadia. At a place like Blackwoods Campground, this will take the form of an innovative partnership with philanthropic and corporate supporters to replace older light fixtures with “night-sky friendly” lighting to help conserve the spectacular starry vistas that are increasingly rare in the northeastern US. It will also take the form of a completely new hiking trail (made possible in part by FOA grant funding and volunteers) that will link that campground to Otter Cove, Gorham Mountain, and Ocean Drive—offering an opportunity for campers to access some of the most popular areas of the park while leaving their cars behind. Save June 7th, National Trails Day, to join FOA and the park for a planned trail dedication and inaugural hike.
While traditions like an annual bike trip are wonderful, changing up the mode of our visit to the park is something we should all try more often: try Acadia off-season or early in the morning; try it without a car or with a tent. Even for those of us who have been enjoying the park for decades, the change might do us and Acadia good.