President’s Message: FOA at 30
By David R. MacDonald
Fall/Winter 2016 Friends of Acadia Journal
When a handful of volunteers at Acadia National Park and forward-looking park staff together founded Friends of Acadia in 1986, their goal was to provide more opportunities for citizens to give back to this beloved place that gave them so much. Many were avid hikers willing to help with trail upkeep. Others were concerned about dwindling park funding coming from Washington. Those living in the surrounding towns shared a desire to help a large federal agency better understand and work with our small Maine communities.
These visionaries may or may not have predicted the challenges and opportunities facing Acadia at the dawn of its second century—such as climate change, transportation planning, cruise ship visitation, youth engagement, and habitat fragmentation—but they anticipated perfectly that Acadia would benefit and thrive from greater community involvement. They might not have predicted that FOA would grant more than $25 million to Acadia National Park and surrounding communities over its first three decades. But they understood that the needs going forward would be great, and that an organization like FOA would need to be built to last. Thirty years is not a long time for an organization that is “in the perpetuity business,” but thanks to all of you, the collective impact we have already had is significant and lasting.
I have often thought of FOA’s founders during 2016, as we work to make our organization stronger and more sustainable to carry on the mission they began. Our Second Century Campaign, announced this summer, is providing vital financial resources to protect our park from threats posed by changes in our world, like growing visitation and a warming climate. And our deep involvement in the communitydriven Acadia Centennial celebration is strengthening a network of businesses and partners whom we hope will remain committed to the long-term stewardship of Acadia.
I am often asked by our members if FOA’s success might tempt Congress to pare back funding for Acadia in favor of “needier” parks with less philanthropic or volunteer involvement. Our experience has, in fact, proven just the opposite. Since FOA raised funds to restore Acadia’s trail system through the Acadia Trails Forever campaign more than a decade ago, the amount of federal grants that the park has received for trail work has increased dramatically.
Meanwhile, as appropriations for park operating budgets have remained largely flat during that time, the only glimmer of hope for additional federal funding has been in the form of challenge grant opportunities. FOA’s ability to provide dependable matching funds from the private sector makes Acadia very competitive in applying for these new federal dollars. Last year, Acadia won a Centennial Challenge grant, which FOA matched, to help reclaim scenic vistas from Acadia’s motor and carriage roads; this year, we matched Centennial Challenge funding that helped to bring more Maine schoolchildren to visit Acadia.
And the impact of this work extends beyond Acadia: this fall I attended a conference at the Grand Canyon, where I heard how several other friends groups from around the country are modeling their efforts after FOA’s best practices and historic successes. Closer to home, community members in northern Maine have already reached out to FOA for tips as they contemplate a friends group for the newly-established Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.
As the brilliant fall colors seemed to hang on longer than ever at Acadia this year, I enjoyed a late-October morning on the Precipice Trail. The young peregrine falcons had fledged, and the re-opened trail featured a few new rungs and hand-holds made possible by a generous FOA donor. I miraculously had the route all to myself— until I approached the summit, where I heard voices and a cell phone beeping. I was trying not to feel grumpy about sharing the mountain, when I suddenly took in the gist of the conversation: a young couple had just gotten engaged atop Champlain, and they were calling to tell their parents the news.
Winded from my climb and more than a bit weary from this wild and wonderful centennial year at Acadia, I felt a jolt of excitement for this new beginning and raised my water bottle in a toast to the couple. I hope that 2016 will always be a special year for them, as it will be for me and all of us at FOA. Thanks to everyone who has helped Friends of Acadia climb to new heights over its first thirty years— and now, onward to the trail leading into Acadia’s second century! ❈