President’s Message: Protecting the National Park Experience
By David R. MacDonald
Winter 2014 Friends of Acadia Journal
Each year, I have the chance to travel to another park for the National Park Friends Alliance Meeting, where friends groups from around the nation gather to learn from each other, share best practices, and collaborate on national efforts. It is always an inspiring trip, and I return to Acadia in awe of the breadth of our National Park System and the key role that friends groups are playing in parks large and small.
Each time, without fail, I also have the privilege of receiving heartfelt thanks from another organization that has modeled a program at their park after something we have done successfully here at Acadia. With FOA now in the midst of our yearend Annual Fund drive, I am sure that many of our generous members are motivated by the opportunity to have a positive impact on a special place or project here at Acadia. I hope that our members also feel proud that the good work they make possible here is constantly rippling outward, to benefit other parks around the country.
This ripple effect can work in both directions. This year’s Friends Alliance Meeting was held at Yosemite National Park, where roughly four million visitors flock annually to experience the natural wonders of that remarkable landscape. Yosemite has just celebrated the 150th anniversary of the Yosemite Land Grant, signed by President Abraham Lincoln in the midst of the Civil War, and the meeting provided many ideas for FOA as we work with community partners to mark Acadia’s centennial in 2016.
Our friends at the Yosemite Conservancy showcased some ambitious restoration projects at heavily-visited sites, such as the famed stand of giant sequoia trees at Mariposa Grove. The parallels to iconic Acadia destinations like Cadillac Mountain were striking; I experienced a strong sense of déjà vu watching a motor coach negotiate a hairpin turn on the narrow, winding road to Glacier Point, while cars backed up in both directions.
What struck me most about Yosemite’s restoration projects were the patience and commitment required to tackle something at a truly ambitious scale that will have impact for generations to come. The Mariposa Grove project has taken decades of planning to pull together. Even though the restoration is just beginning, the benefits to the visiting public and to the majestic trees are already clear to see.
But the project will bring changes to traditions that have been part of the Mariposa experience for decades—and change is hard for all involved. In the future, most visitors will park at a new staging area a few miles away and ride a shuttle bus to the grove; at the site, the small tram that for generations has carried visitors on a winding narrated tour through the grove will be gone. The fundamental impetus for these changes was not the vision of a park superintendent or the advocacy of a friends group, but rather the robust and sustained input and participation of the general public—the true owners of these magnificent trees—who wanted to see a less-developed site and more-natural visitor experience. There is something very powerful about the public’s strong sense of ownership of this sacred American place, and their commitment to its long-term preservation.
When I returned home, I learned that Acadia will soon launch a comprehensive investigation of the transportation issues facing our own park—and felt very hopeful that the same spirit of public engagement that shaped a new future for the Mariposa Grove and that has helped preserve trails and carriage roads here at Acadia will again prove itself a powerful force for our collective good. Friends of Acadia will certainly be involved as an active partner, committed to a park that is a leader in 21st-century transportation and visitation, whether at Cadillac, Ocean Drive, or Jordan Pond.
With ridership of the Island Explorer bus system topping a half million for the first time ever in one season and up more than 25% on some routes this year, and with park visitation likely to climb only higher in the coming years, we all must work together to solve the challenges that lie ahead. Please stay tuned for opportunities to learn more about transportation planning in Acadia National Park and to lend your voice to the discussion about how to best protect the “Acadia Experience” for generations to come.