President’s Message: Acadia’s Excellence
By David R. MacDonald
Fall 2014 Friends of Acadia Journal
At the Friends of Acadia Annual Meeting in mid-July, Acadia National Park Superintendent Sheridan Steele shared the impressive news that Acadia had recently earned top honors in a USA Today poll that asked readers to choose the best national park in the country. Just a few days later, we learned that Good Morning America conducted another poll in which Acadia again emerged on top—not only among national parks, but as “America’s Favorite Place.” We should not have been surprised when the New York Times followed with its own feature a couple of weeks later, highlighting Acadia’s trails on the front page of its travel section.
Among FOA’s board, staff, and membership, many people have felt pride in this well-deserved recognition; an equal number, however, have expressed a concern: do we really need this kind of national press at a time when Acadia’s parking lots are already overflowing and the park can feel at risk of being “loved to death”?
Over the course of the summer, I had the opportunity to visit with hundreds of park visitors and FOA supporters, and almost all shared this same schizophrenic response to Acadia’s recent media prominence. Everyone agreed with the top rankings but they worried about how they might impact Acadia’s future. They wished Acadia’s merits might stay a bit more below the radar.
This kind of modesty is not unusual among Mainers. But it is not realistic to think that we can keep Acadia a secret. Nor is it practical to wish for more days of rain or fog as a strategy to discourage more visitors; during her August visit here, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewel spoke of a day in Acadia nearly forty years ago, eating lobster in a tiny tent in the pouring rain, as among her most memorable national park experiences! Why does Acadia rate so high among so many different audiences? Because it is a family-friendly park? Because its staff is absolutely committed to the park and its visitors? Because it is within a day’s drive of the entire northeastern United States? Because Friends of Acadia has helped add a margin of excellence to park resources and operations for nearly thirty years?
Yes to all of the above! People feel passionately about Acadia, and often come back again and again over the years. Places as diverse as Cadillac Mountain, Ship Harbor, Schoodic, and Isle au Haut stay with you long after you are there. Our love for this place is profound, often personal, and as varied as the many different trails in Acadia. However, I believe that the reasons behind Acadia’s sweep of this summer’s popularity contests run still deeper.
What makes Acadia absolutely unique in my (admittedly biased) experience is its remarkable relationship with the surrounding local communities. Acadia’s boundary weaves in and out of more than a dozen small fishing harbors, historic villages, summer colonies, bustling sea-ports, tourist destinations, and offshore islands. This porous, crooked boundary and Acadia’s relationships with its countless neighbors are complex—as is the charge to manage natural and cultural resources across the checker-board ownership—but ultimately, they are a large part of what makes the Acadia experience so rewarding and memorable.
I often think about how lucky I am to live in a place that has Acadia National Park as its backyard, and how different my hometown would be if it were not for the park. I also believe, however, that the benefit is mutual, and that Acadia is just as fortunate to have such a diverse and caring community and thousands of engaged neighbors and friends who give back so generously to the park. Indeed, this synergy has defined Acadia from its earliest days and continues to be its hallmark, whether described on the front pages of our national press, or in quiet trailside or kitchen table conversations.
Here at Friends of Acadia, we will embrace the challenge of making “the best” even better. We certainly don’t need to be in the headlines, but hope that Acadia will set the standard in terms of youth engagement in parks and thoughtfully managing the delicate balance between an outstanding visitor experience and the need to protect Acadia’s natural and cultural resources. With the support of an engaged membership and creative and committed partners throughout the park and community, it is an exciting time indeed as we approach the park’s centennial in 2016. We appreciate your interest and hope that the following pages will inspire even greater involvement.