Community engagement grows in 2017

BAR HARBOR — The year 2017 saw major growth in Friends of Acadia’s community engagement programs, including educational offerings that inspire youth to become tomorrow’s stewards of public lands and the environment.

More than 600 students and teachers from 20 Maine schools, including all elementary institutions on Mount Desert Island, attended the Schoodic Education Adventure during the past year. This multi-day, residential program occurs at the Schoodic Education and Research Center, where participants classrooms’ are both indoors and outside in Acadia National Park. The successful program is supported by FOA and L.L.Bean, in partnership with the National Park Service and the Schoodic Institute.

Also in 2017, FOA’s Outdoor Classroom grants helped students in both Trenton and Guilford increase their time spent outdoors and their knowledge of the environment and the park. The funds can be used for things such as trails, gardens, and greenhouses, as well as supplies and teaching materials.

In Trenton, students created and built a nature trail through the woods that included a flat open area with benches and space for outdoor lessons and projects.

In Guilford, students designed and created a handicapped-accessible trail linking the Piscataquis Community Elementary School and the Secondary School. They also partnered with the Appalachian Mountain Club, which contributed grant funds and volunteers to the project.

Also in 2017, FOA’s Yellow Bus Fund helped students and teachers from 15 Maine Schools make day trips to learn more about Acadia, including the Schoodic area.

Other youth programs supported by FOA include the Acadia Youth Technology Team, Acadia Youth Conservation Corps, and Acadia Quest which encourages children and parents to learn more about the park.

FOA will end 2017 with just under 5,000 members, the highest total ever. During the past 12 months, FOA made $1.5 million in grants. Those funds, distributed through more than 30 grant programs, helped support 171 employees in Acadia National Park and the surrounding communities.

Among those funds was $407,000 for trail work, including the initiation of the restoration of the Seaside Path in Seal Harbor. FOA Summit Stewards helped educate visitors in Leave No Trace Principles and helped the park deal with traffic congestion on the top of Cadillac Mountain the forced the summit road to be closed more than 69 times during 2017.

During the past year, more than 2,660 FOA volunteers contributed many thousands of hours to helping maintain Acadia National Park including the Wild Gardens of Acadia and cross-country ski trail grooming done by members of the Acadia Winter Trails Association.

During the annual FOA Earth Day Roadside Clean Up in April, hundreds of area residents fanned out across Mount Desert Island, and in the Trenton/Ellsworth area, to help collect trash from along 150 miles of town and state roads. In all more than 300 volunteers collected 665 bags of trash weighing more than four tons.

In November, more than 500 people turned out to participate in Take Pride in Acadia Day, where volunteers helped rake leaves from ditches and culverts along more than a nine miles of carriage roads. The work helps reduce winter erosion which can result in costly repairs each spring.

During the past year, FOA, with the assistance of Canon USA funded local water quality monitoring at Jordan Pond, a wetland restoration plan at Sieur de Monts, and the removal of dozens of invasive species on multiple sites. In all, 23 different invasive species were removed from 72 sites in the park following surveys of more than 900 acres. Those non-native plants covered nearly four acres in total.

Along with revenue generated by the sale of park entrance passes and transit dollars provided by the Maine Department of Transportation, the Island Explorer bus system benefited from continued lead corporate support from L.L.Bean and contributions from area towns and local businesses which helped its ridership continue to climb. This past year it carried more than 581,000 passengers over the summer and fall, and surpassed the 7 millionth cumulative passenger mark on Aug. 23, 2017.

Also in August, FOA’s annual benefit event on the lawn at the Asticou in Northeast Harbor raised $240,000 in pledges towards restoration of historic structures in the park including the Jordan Pond and Brown Mountain gatehouses on the carriage road system and for the Gilley House, and Keeper’s House,” adjacent to the lighthouse on Baker Island.

Early in 2017, FOA wrapped up its Acadia Centennial celebrations from 2016 with the placement of a time capsule containing information, articles, photographs and artifacts in the lobby of Bar Harbor Banking and Trust. It is slated to be opened during bicentennial observances in 2116.

During 2017, FOA directly employed 13 full-time people and funded another 23 part-time positions. At FOA’s annual meeting in June, Anne Green was elected chairman of the board of directors. She followed outgoing chair Ed Samek. Samek received FOA’s Marianne Edwards Distinguished Service Award at the meeting.

FOA looks forward to continued community involvement in 2018, particularly given the anticipated release by the Park Service of new proposed options for dealing with Acadia’s growing visitation and traffic congestion at high visitation sites during peak season.