President’s Message: Saluting an Outstanding Leader and Friend
By David R. MacDonald
Summer 2015 Friends of Acadia Journal
I am often asked about the key to Friends of Acadia’s long-standing success as a park partner with a national reputation for leadership and impact. While a committed board of directors, hard-working staff, and an inspiring team of members and volunteers are high on my list, just as important is the quality of the working relationship between FOA and our federal partners at Acadia National Park. Without a strong shared commitment to the partnership, without trust and respect for the other’s priorities and roles, and without good communication, Friends of Acadia’s job would be extremely challenging.
At Acadia, we enjoy all of these benefits; and while I have never taken them for granted, I have been spending more time thinking about them since receiving the news from Acadia’s Superintendent Sheridan Steele that he will be retiring this fall from a distinguished National Park Service career, capped by a twelve-year stint leading Acadia.
Sheridan has been the best friend that a partner like FOA could have. Early on in his tenure here, he identified ambitious goals around land acquisition, youth engagement, visitor experience, and historic opportunities in the Schoodic district of the park. He then maintained laser-like focus on these priorities and did everything within his power to harness the interests and abilities of everyone around him—on the park staff, among a wide circle of partners well beyond FOA, and throughout the community—to realize progress and success. He never missed an FOA board meeting and always made himself available to our board, staff, and supporters for tours of park operations and projects.
He also ensured that we had fun along the way, and tried to conduct as much business as possible out in the park, not inside conference rooms. Nearly all of the pivotal work discussions I have had with Sheridan over our twelve years of collaboration took place outdoors, walking Acadia’s trails and carriage roads. His pace would quicken as he grew excited about a new project, and we would polish off the Witch Hole loop in no time. No matter how busy my day might be, when Sheridan called and said “Hey, let’s go for a hike,” I would accept the offer and always returned to the office energized by our time together.
Sheridan has been a committed NPS employee who also saw tremendous up-side to maximizing the profile and role of partner organizations like FOA, which can be more nimble and flexible than the federal government. He was not shy about asking for our help, nor in heaping thanks and giving credit to others.
Friends of Acadia honored Sheridan with the Marianne Edwards Distinguished Service Award at our annual meeting last month. Making the presentation, I recognized his leadership and singled out the remarkable accomplishments he has realized for Acadia through the lasting protection of the 1,600-acre Schoodic Woods property. He helped turn this extremely strategic tract from the single biggest threat facing Acadia into a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the park, which will offer outstanding public benefits to park visitors and the surrounding communities when its trails, bike paths, and campground open in early September. As anyone who has been part of the dreaming, planning, strategizing, nail-biting, and execution on the Schoodic Woods project over the last dozen-plus years knows, this project never would have been possible without Sheridan’s vision and persistence.
Friends of Acadia is proud to have been part of the Schoodic team, since the very early days of FOA leading opposition to a proposed clear-cut of the property’s woodlands in the 1990s to our current role of partnering with the National Park Foundation to expedite delivery of grant funds to Acadia to enable its purchase of new equipment and the hiring of staff needed to manage the property’s start-up this fall.
Sheridan’s tenure at Acadia National Park has truly been historic in its impact—and his legacy will only increase over time as many of the seeds he has planted, particularly among young visitors, interns, and employees at Acadia, continue to grow and blossom in the years to come.
I am certain that the superintendent post at Acadia will attract a strong pool of candidates; we will no doubt benefit from another terrific partner to lead Acadia into its second century. All of us at Friends of Acadia wish to salute Sheridan for his incredible service, and we pledge our continued commitment to the worthy goals in which he so passionately believed. Thank you, Sheridan!