Nov 302013
 

Birdwatching Mount Desert Island Maine Rich MacDonaldConsider bird watching.  Once thought of as a hobby for elderly folks of the nerdier sort, in 2011 it was the subject of a comedy starring Owen Wilson.  Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney are both said to be fans of this pastime that originally gained popularity in Victorian England with the publication of such books as Birds through an Opera Glass (1889), but today counts one out of every five Americans as a participant.

My interest in bird watching emerged from my passion for hiking.  If I took a guided bird tour, I reasoned, I could add to my basic knowledge and get even more out of my day hikes in Acadia National Park in Maine.  So, we signed up with The Natural History Center in Bar Harbor.

We arrived early for our 8am appointment, and with more than a little excitement, sat waiting on the bench on Firefly Lane opposite the Bar Harbor Village Green gazebo.

A few minutes later the owner of the center, Rich MacDonald, pulled up and we were off to the first of six stops on the three-hour bird watching tour of Mount Desert Island.  As we drove, Rich introduced himself.

“I grew up in western New York, the oldest son in the family.  We had a dairy farm and cheese shop.  37 types.   But I was an academic, and although I was supposed to take over the farm, my father encouraged me to pursue my passion.”

That was biology and ornithology, in particular. After ten years as a field biologist with The Nature Conservancy and a stint in consulting, Rich met his wife, Natalie Springuel, also a naturalist, who was a Master Maine Guide for sea kayaking.  They moved to Mount Desert Island and opened The Natural History Center four years ago.

As Rich parked the van at Hadley’s Point, the northernmost point of the island, the wind picked up. The yellow leaves of the nearby poplars rustled, as chickadees chirped from somewhere within the grove.  Rich positioned his scope beside the van, which sheltered us on this breezy, but bright October morning.  Although we were novice bird watchers, we knew this was not the best time of year for birding.  Sure enough, the first birds Rich’s scope picked up bobbing around in Eastern Bay were herring gulls—common to every beach and, well, garbage lot.

Rich got excited.  “What do you see?”  We peered through the scope.  Then we saw it: a bright red spot on the bill.  Only when a chick pecks it, Rich explained, does the mother regurgitate food to feed it. “That red dot is key to survival.” It turns out a Dutch scientist won a Nobel Prize for these findings about “signal stimulti.”  I knew I’d never look at herring gulls the same.

We moved on, sighting yellow legs, red-necked grebes, Canadian geese, a bald eagle, several types of ducks, and mosquitoes of avian scale.  The anecdotes about bird behavior, habitat, and history accumulated even faster than the checkmarks on the birding list. 

We saw a mourning dove, which prompted Rich to tell us the story of its relation, the  passenger pigeon.  In the 19th century a pigeon migration, in flocks numbering in the billions, was such a spectacle that John James Audubon described it as “darkening the sky.”  These pigeons are extinct today.

“I see mourning doves pecking at the gravel on the carriage roads,” I said to Rich.

“Eating little stones helps them grind things in their stomachs,” he explained.

“What kind of spruce is this?” I asked.

“Black spruce.  It’s the most common in Maine.”

It was clear we were in the company of a passionate expert.  It’s no wonder that the hedge fund elite hire him to guide extended hiking and kayaking trips.  Even more, it fits that he would be the naturalist for Garrison Keillor on the cruises of National Public Radio’s A Prairie Home Companion.

Yes, birding with Rich MacDonald was another victory for the nerds. 

And I was right.  A walk in the woods is great.  When you know what’s singing in the trees, it’s even better.

The Natural History Center is located at 6 Firefly Lane, Bar Harbor, Maine, (207) 801-2617.

 

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Wildlife in Maine’s Acadia National Park: Bring Your Binoculars! 

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How to Cook Lobster and More: A Three-Day Cooking Adventure in Maine

 

 

Nov 022013
 

Oktoberfest AcadiaI have no credentials that qualify me to review an Oktoberfest event.

When one of the brewers I visited at Acadia’s Oktoberfest described an ale as very “hoppy,” I said, “Yes, happy!” and extended my sampling glass.

With my credentials—or lack thereof—established, I can now share my sentiments about the annual Acadia Oktoberfest, and you can rest assured that I won’t be describing the beers in the manner of, say, a wine critic.

This year, as in the seventeen previous, Acadia’s Oktoberfest was sponsored by the Southwest and Tremont Chamber of Commerce during Columbus Day weekend at Smuggler’s Den Campground on Mount Desert Island. In years past up to four thousand locals, national park visitors, beer geeks, and those just looking for a good time have joined in the imbibing, as well as music and crafts exhibits.

I’d never been among them, even though I come to Acadia from New York City every October to hike.

First of all, admission to the Saturday beerfest is $30.  For that you get a roll of ten tickets, entitling you to ten samplings in your  4-ounce “souvenir” glass.  In addition to the beer tent, there are two others devoted to crafts and food/entertainment.  All food is additional.  (The other option is to pay $10 for admission only.)

But that $30 price tag is nothing for the many fans of craft beers, who view this festival as their chance to sample both the classic and seasonal offerings of 21 breweries, all in the craft or microbrewery category that boasts small batches and artisanal quality.  According to the Brewers Associations, craft brewing sales soared 15 percent in 2012, while U.S. beer sales overall were virtually stagnant at a .9 percent increase.

Anchoring the entrance to the beer tent at this year’s Acadia’s Oktoberfest was Mount Desert Island’s own Atlantic Brewing, founded in 1990 and a driving force behind the festival’s inception. It’s where we tasted our first sample.  Fred chose the classic Real Ale, but I decided to try the Island Ginger, a lightly spiced brew that was a more flavorful alternative to the Bar Harbor Summer Ale I like to drink with lobster.

Scouting out the surroundings, we moved from the beer tent, which was packed with enthusiasts, over to the food tent.  Here the band was playing and couples, flushed from their own circuits of the beer tent, were dancing.

Acadia Oktoerfest

The food stand for Tanya’s Off the Grid Foods caught our attention.  Loading up with a freshly prepared salsa and chips and cups of chili, we found seats at long tables.  Cool autumn air refreshed the tent as we dug into the perfectly seasoned chili.  I ducked back into the beer tent for two more harvest ales, and, returning, stirred some sour cream into the chili.  The band, The Peterson Project, started up a new set, moving from bluesy rock to bluegrass.

The difference in the beers was really remarkable.  Of the 21 breweries represented, only three were from outside of Maine and one—Brooklyn Brewery—from outside of New England.  Some of the Maine beers, such as Allagash, Geary, and Shipyard, are well distributed throughout New England and sometimes farther, such as New York, where I’ve seen them in restaurants featuring craft beers.   Many, however, were local micro-breweries.  We stood in line twice for the Daymark from Rising Tide, a family-owned craft brewery in Portland that specializes in artisanal ales.Acadia OktoberfestSome booths were staffed by sales reps, others volunteers.  “I just moved here from Alaska,” one volunteer told me.  “I thought it would be a great way to meet people.”

In front of the Sam Adams booth, a couple in Bavarian-style, felt hats posed for a photo.

Acadia Oktoberfest

A cut-out of Sam Adams himself marched by.Acadia OktoberfestThere were no lederhosen to be seen, although I did spot a guy in a lime green T-shirt and plaid kilt.

Acadia Oktoberfest

In the midst of the revelers enjoying the fall craft beers, caricaturist Susan Fox sketched a smiling subject.Acadia OktoberfestBack in the food tent Fred ordered a plate of BBQ ribs from Nostrano, the Town Hill caterer that specializes in private dinners.  When he asked for a knife, the owner Frank Pendola simply twisted the rack, and the meat fell off the bones.

It was getting close to the 6pm closing, and we still had quite a few red tickets left in our rolls.  So many more beers, so little time.  The Fatty Bumpkins Maine Draft Cider was too sweet for my taste, but we loved the chocolate and mint-laced coffee and Cadillac Stout that wrapped up our tasting.

The closing event in the beer tent was about to begin.  Someone in the crowd told us they were counting the tickets at each brewer’s stand to determine the people’s choice–who would get to come back next year with no vendor’s fee.  We heard “Testing…testing” on the mike, then, “Brooklyn Brewery.”

It was a sign!  This New Yorker would be back next year, too.

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Aug 222013
 

Off Mount Desert Island Acadia National Park MaineIn 2011 the Spanierman Gallery in New York City brought together the work of 24 artists, including Will Barnet, George Bellows, and Marsden Hartley, to examine how Maine had inspired them.  Entitled “Maine – An Artist’s Retreat,” the show revealed many representations of the state’s coastline and islands.  Yet, what sets Maine apart, the catalog said, is how Maine’s forests, rocky shores, marshes, and harbors always present themselves as fresh, alive, and unexplored, no matter how many times in the past artists have rendered them.

The opportunity to discover these landscapes for yourself—fresh and alive–will be available to students in an upcoming painting expedition with acclaimed Maine artist Judy Taylor.  It will take place September 3-6, 2013 off the coast of Mount Desert Island, home of Acadia National Park in Maine.

What’s exciting about this workshop, however, is that it will truly be an opportunity to explore the unexplored because it will take place on a small private island.

According to Judy Taylor, the island, which has only one house which dates back to the 1930s, is very close to Mount Desert Island.  It has 360 views, with one side overlooking Indian Point Nature Conservancy “where the seals perch on rocks.”  Says Judy, “You can walk the entire island easily.  It gives us such flexibility to take advantage of light in both the morning and afternoon.”

Acadia National Park Mount Desert Island Maine

Lessons will all be about plein air painting, and students can work in the medium of their choice.  “Blocking in and simplifying shapes will be key,” Judy notes.  Lessons will also focus on color mixing, light and shade, composition, and atmospheric and linear perspective.

Students can register for two days for $350 or four days for $650.  They must arrange for their own housing on Mount Desert Island and bring their own lunch each day.  The day begins at 9am at the dock in Pretty Marsh where they’ll return around 4pm.

For questions and registrations, contact Judy Taylor at punchinellas@hotmail.com.

Remember, to ensure optimal attention from Judy, the class size is limited to eight students.  It’s also the capacity of the boat that will take you to the private island!  So, sign up now.

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Aug 142013
 

Eight guests had signed up for an exclusive “cooking adventure” at Ann’s Point Inn in Bass Harbor, Maine.  Working alongside Chef James Lindquist of Red Sky Restaurant, they were preparing the evening’s menu:  dumplings filled with just-picked mushrooms, steamed clams and mussels over freshly made pasta, halibut with a triple citrus beurre blanc, and lobster steamed in seawater and seaweed collected outside the inn.  After Chef Lindquist deboned and skinned the halibut, he suggested they lay the skin out on a large rock near the shoreline.  As if on cue, a majestic eagle swooped down to participate in the enjoyment of the evening’s delicacies – ensuring this “cooking adventure” was worthy of its name.

The eagles you see on your next trip to Acadia National Park may not be quite this “up close and personal,” but, if you plan your itinerary to prioritize wildlife viewing, you are likely to bring back photos—and memories—of eagles and much more.  Acadia National Park protects over 40,000 acres on the beautiful and remote destination of Mount Desert Island, thus preserving the homes and habitats of dazzling birds, mammals, and other wildlife.

Don’t leave home without your binoculars.  Considered one of the premier bird-watching areas in the country, Acadia has logged a record of 338 bird species, according to the National Park Service. Twenty-three species of warblers alone have been recorded as breeding in the park!

Eagle sightings have been common on the kayaking trips in Frenchman Bay and boat cruises to Frenchboro that I’ve taken during trips to Acadia National Park.  In addition, when we kayak in Somes Sound, we paddle to a spot where we regularly see eagles.

bald eagle acadia national park

Peregrine falcons are also an important species on the list. In the 1980s, Acadia National Park participated in a cooperative management plan to restore this endangered species.  Today, when you scan the sky near the Precipice or Beech Cliffs, you can see the recovered peregrines diving to attack prey at a wondrous speed that can approach miles per hour.

You’ll spot cormorants, terns, and loons, too.  As we were biking on our way from Eagle Lake to Witch Hole Pond, we spotted this majestic Great Blue Heron atop a beaver lodge.

great blue heron acadia national park

 

Ranger-led bird walks take place between late spring and mid-fall.  In addition, volunteers join the National Park Service in the fall to count the migrating hawks.

Acadia National Park hawk watch

Seals and harbor porpoises are also common sightings on boat excursions around Acadia.  You’re likely to see both harbor seals, as well as grey seals in the Gulf of Maine.

seals gulf of maine

One morning, as we crossed the sandbar between Bar Harbor and Bar Island, we spotted this lost seal pup, which was ultimately rescued thanks to the College of the Atlantic’s program dedicated to marine animal preservation.

harbor seal bar harbor maine

 

As exciting as it is to encounter a seal pup, you should never underestimate the appeal of a marsh full of frogs to a child.

Eagle Lake Acadia National Park

child with frog

And a boat cruise to retrieve wonders of the deep may end up intriguing not only children, but hard-to-impress adolescents.

sea star diver ed cruise bar harbor

rachel lauderBefore we leave this topic, we return to Ann’s Point Inn, the site of the epicurean eagle, to answer the question, “How likely is it that we will see a moose on a visit to Acadia National Park?”  According to the National Park Service, they do exist in the park, but are rarely seen.  However, one morning guests looked out on the same shoreline where the eagle had landed to see this interloper.

moose bass harbor acadia

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Aug 052013
 

What do Oahu, Majorca, Fiji, and Mount Desert Island have in common?  Well, discerning travelers have just ranked them among their favorite islands in Travel + Leisure’s 18th annual poll to identify the “World’s Best.”

This much-anticipated publishing event occurs every August and fuels bucket lists for avid travelers worldwide.  It provides rankings not only of destinations, including cities, but also hotels, cruises, and airlines that “define the very best in travel.”  Travel + Leisure boasts 4.8 million readers, who were invited to participate in the poll from December 1, 2012, to April 1, 2013.

Mount Desert Island has appeared on every list of Top Islands in the Continental U.S and Canada during the last five years, with the exception of 2011.  In 2008 it was also ranked fifth among the Top 10 Islands in the World.

So, how did the Travel + Leisure editors organize their survey to uncover the “World’s Best”?   Islands were evaluated on five characteristics: natural attractions/beaches, activities/sights, restaurants/food, people, value.  Romance was optional! 

Natural Attractions: Where the Mountains Meet the Sea 

Maine rocky coastlineThe natural attractions of Mount Desert Island are so great that Congress protected it as a national park in 1919, the first one east of the Mississippi.  Today the park occupies about half of the entire island, which is about the size of Martha’s Vineyard.  Within its boundaries, marked by an iconic rocky New England coastline, are 24 mountain peaks, rich boreal forests, glacial lakes, rolling meadows, wetlands, and dramatic rock formations.  In 1877 Clara Barnes Martin wrote the first guidebook for Mount Desert Island, describing its unique beauty as “the only neighborhood of mountain and sea on all our Atlantic coast.  These cliffs look down not on bay or lake, but upon broad ocean.”

Activities: From Rock Climbing to Curling Up with a Good Book

Kayaking BubblesThe national park challenges travelers with an array of activities and sights.  From ranger-led lectures to sunset cruises in historic sailing sloops, days can be packed.  Travelers usually start with visits to Cadillac Mountain, the tallest mountain on the eastern seaboard, as well as other top sights:  the Park Loop Road, Sand Beach, Thunder Hole, Jordan Pond, Eagle Lake, and the Bass Harbor Head Light.  But then Acadia quickly lures hikers, bikers, climbers, and kayakers to explore more deeply.  A variety of competent guides and outfitters are available to lead the way.  Activities also include museums, galleries, local crafts fairs, and many settings just right for curling up with a good book.

Restaurants: Fresh from Maine’s Fishermen and Farmers

Maine lobster dinnerMaine is the state of fishermen and farmers.  So, it is no surprise that Mount Desert Island delights foodies with fresh, seasonal menus from innovative local chefs.  An exciting array of restaurants has cropped up in Mount Desert Island’s villages from Bar Harbor to Otter Creek to Southwest Harbor.  In addition, traditional lobster pounds attract everyone to sample steamers, Maine shrimp, chowders of many varieties, lobster rolls, and, of course, steamed lobster.  And whether it’s on a fresh white table cloth or knotty old picnic table, everyone has the blueberry pie.

 

People in DownEast Maine

Face of MaineMaine’s state motto is: “The way life should be.”  That means that on a trip to Mount Desert Island you’re going to encounter folks who are genuine, trustworthy, hardworking, and value-oriented.  As the joke goes, you know you’re in Maine, if you leave your keys in the car, and the car is still there in the morning.  People are also ruthlessly practical.  There’s also a joke that you know you’re in Maine when what you expect for Valentine’s is new snow tires.  So, anticipate straightforward, calm, good-natured people who aren’t necessarily going to adjust their schedule to yours.  And you may discover that the highlight of your trip may well be a visit to the hardware store.

Value

hulls cove visitors center acadia national parkIt’s a core value of locals that you need to get the right proportion of quality and quantity of goods and services for the price.  And, depending on your own personal value system, Mount Desert Island is there to deliver.  Whether you choose to stay in an ocean-side hotel in Bar Harbor or one of the campgrounds operated by the National Park Service, you can enjoy great value.  This extends to the island’s restaurants, tours, and shopping.  Best of all is the value—in terms of unique visual beauty–visitors receive for their $20 entrance fee to Acadia National Park.

 

Romance Is Never Optional

sunset downeast friendship sloopsIn recent years Mount Desert Island has become a popular spot for destination weddings.  But sunset cruises and harbor-side dinners don’t have to be reserved exclusively for newlyweds.  Especially in autumn the island seems full of hand-holding couples strolling down carriage rounds or exploring the quaint villages.   Charming inns beckon visitors to relax on their porches in summertime and read in front of the fire in chillier seasons.  Mount Desert Island is an appealing getaway for couples of all ages.

 

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Jul 282013
 

Maine Blueberry PieNothing typifies the Maine vacation experience more than lobster and blueberry pie.  And this year Thurston’s Lobster Pound in Bass Harbor, considered by many the best lobster pound on Mount Desert Island, switched its pie purveyor to a start-up baker, who three years ago was worrying about how to pay for new siding on her house.

That’s how Mary Musson describes why she started IslandBound Treats.  “It was on a lark,” she grins.  “We were trying to think of ways to earn a little extra money for the remodeling.”

Maine blueberry pie

Photo by Michelle Perry

Today, in addition to Thurston’s, her pies are sold at Sawyers Market on Main Street in Southwest Harbor.  You’ll find them by the register of this well-known island establishment, on the counter right in front of the photo of the original shopkeeper with Julia Child.

Mary also sells the pies from her own house at 302 Main Street in Southwest Harbor, just shy of the village.  Look for a simple sign in front of a white 1950 ranch, now freshly sided.  There you’ll find pies arranged on a makeshift counter, that is, a table put across the open door.  If you go too late, you’re also likely to see a “Sold Out” sign.

Word of mouth is spreading the excitement about IslandBound Treats.  Says Maine artist Judy Taylor, “They are fresh, fresh, fresh.”  Jeannette Feuer, innkeeper at Ann’s Point in Bass Harbor, reports, “Guests returned from Thurston’s and were raving about the strawberry rhubarb pie.”

To produce 40 pies a day, 50 during holiday weeks, Mary still uses her standard household GE oven, but has added two new ones in the basement.  She doesn’t have a dishwasher, but this year hired a helper.

The energetic mother of three girls, 6, 7, and 9, Mary makes three kinds of pie—blueberry (“the classic”), strawberry/rhubarb (“kind of nostalgic”), and triple berry (“my favorite—I kept one for us over the Fourth”).

The recipes?  Well, according to Mary, it was a process to get them where they are today.  In particular, for the blueberry pie, she was looking for “juicy, not thick and gummy.”  The crust?  “Perfecting it just meant more and more butter.”

Mary grew up in Bar Harbor and her husband, an engineer, in Bernard.  They lived in Boston for five years and, when they were on their way home for visits, they’d talk about being “island bound”.  To raise their family, they decided to return to MDI, especially because of the good schools.  “Now I feel island bound in a different way.  I thought it was a good name for the business.”

If Mary keeps baking pies the way she has been, she’s bound for much more success.  Maybe a new sun room, too.

 

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Jun 302013
 

What are you looking for when you go to Maine?  Views of the rocky coastline, lighthouses, and Cadillac Mountain?  Lots of lobster and blueberry pie?  Hiking and biking in Acadia National Park?

I go to Maine because I also want to “get away.”

To me this means spending time in stores and cafes with a much slower pace than what I experience in New York City, where I live.  I find that a discussion about a new garden hose at the hardware store in Southwest Harbor can be more restorative than any massage or spa treatment.

That’s one reason the Quietside Café in Southwest Harbor is a favorite.  No doubt about it, we go there because their lobster rolls are fantastic.  Packed with the freshest lobster meat from the lobster pound right down the street on Clark Point Road, they’re served with delicious homemade coleslaw and chips.  Fred also loves their New England clam chowder, which is thick and creamy.

Lobster roll at Quietside Cafe Southwest Harbor Maine

But I love the fact that this is a family business.  Frances and Ralph have operated it for 16 years now, with their two daughters growing up working in the business and pitching in to serve customers.  Today, as we sat outside on newly painted picnic benches, the couple continued to show pride in the new 15-year-old waitress who’s a whiz at reciting their 20-plus ice cream flavors.  That’s just the kind of place it is.

The Quietside Café is located on Main Street in Southwest Harbor on the eponymous western half of Mount Desert Island where the pace is far less bustling than in Bar Harbor where the cruise ships dock.  Parking on Main Street in Southwest Harbor is pretty easy.  There’s also a parking lot in front of the post office right around the corner on Clark Point Road.  The Quietside is diagonally across from the hardware store.

Quietside Cafe Southwest Harbor Maine

The café itself is nondescript.  You can sit outside on picnic tables in a small village garden, which attracts battalions of butterflies to its bushes in late August.  Likely there will be a pie cooling in the window.

Inside the tiny, tidy luncheonette decorated with family photographs are a few tables, an ice cream bar, and a lunch counter that’s also jam-packed with what Frances has baked that day – blueberry pie, macaroons, and oatmeal cookies.

Quietside Cafe Southwest Harbor Maine

Sit there on a stool at risk to your waist line because what TripAdvisor reviewers say is true:

“Blueberry pie in a class of its own, piled a mile high with the sweetest wild berries”

“Ethereal blueberry pie”

“Amazing pie well over an inch thick”

“Best pie around”

“Best key lime pie ever – I suspect it was that chocolate crust”

“The best was the apple pie – pecan streusel topping and loads of apples”

“Pie tastes like the berries were just picked…”

blueberry pie quietside cafe maine

macaroons quietside cafe southwest harbor maine

Speaking of TripAdvisor, I also liked the reviewer who said: “We camped 10 nights and visited the café 5.”  Repeat visitors and regulars are common at the Quietside.

9 of the 10 times I go, I have the lobster roll, but the crab rolls and BLTs are also my personal favorites.  Others are fans of the turkey melts and the “to-die-for” sweet potato fries – in addition to the pizza!

The ice cream also gets rave reviews, for both the quality and flavor variety.  Take Moose Track, for example.  It’s a rich vanilla studded with chocolate and peanut butter chunks.

It’s surely from another world.  And that takes me back to my first point: I go to Maine to get away from it all. Going to the Quietside is like visiting America in another time.  It’s a chance to engage with simple things: value for the money and nice people.  The way life was meant to be, as the Maine slogan states.

It’s telling it like it is when the locals on MDI refer to us off-islanders as people “from away”.

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Jun 162013
 

Summit Ladder Trail Beech Cliff Acadia

Let me tell you about a favorite hike in Acadia National Park that has historic origins and rewarding views.  It’s only a half-mile up, but it’s treacherously–and thrillingly–steep.  (So, I’ll include a tip so that you don’t have to go down the way you came up!)

Let’s go to the western part of Mount Desert Island, known for good reason as the Quietside, to the shores of Echo Lake.  From its western shore rise high cliffs, and this is where we’ll hike.  It’s called Beech Cliff Ladder Trail.

Beech Cliff Ladder Trail was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps as part of FDR’s New Deal in the 1930s.  Single men, 18 to 25, were eligible to enroll if they agreed to send $25 of their monthly $30 wage check back to their families.

You can think about this as you make your way to the back of the Echo Lake parking lot to find the trail head.  As you start ascending on switchbacks, you’ll have the help of stone steps, gifts of the CCC, and iron ladders.

The trail cuts to the left of the perpendicular wall that rises over Echo Lake.

Beech Cliff wall

Your footing will also be challenged by roots.  But cable and cedar railings will help you on this steep climb, as will more stone steps – 303 of them, according to a 1986 inventory reported in the Olmsted Center for Landscape Preservation’s Pathmakers.

At the upper end of the trail you’ll encounter a series of ladders to ascend the cliff face.

ladders Beech Cliff trail

Ladder Trail Beech Cliff

When you reach the top, you’ll first be compelled to look down! You’ll see the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Echo Lake Camp.

Appalachian Mountain Club Echo Lake

The view of Echo Lake’s beach from above demonstrates one of the reasons why it has been chosen by the editors of Down East magazine as one of the 12 Best Lakes for Swimming in Maine — “a wide swath of sand joins shallow clear water that extends far out.”

Echo Lake Beach Mount Desert Acadia

Enjoy the views from the open summit.  To the south, you can clearly see Greening Island Great Cranberry Island beyond.

Be sure to explore the small loop to the north and appreciate the views of Echo Lake, with Acadia Mountain rising from its eastern shore, and Somes Sound and Sargent Mountain in the distance.

Echo Lake Acadia St. Saveaur Sargent Mountain

So, now  what?  Veteran MDI hiker Tom St. Germain says backing your way down any ladder or cliff trail is “harrowing” so I recommend planning ahead and creating your own “biathlon” loop.  This means starting your day by leaving your bikes locked near the pumping station at the southern tip of Great Long Pond.

biking in Acadia

Then, after you summit Beech Cliff Ladder Trail and explore the top, hike a short distance west.  You’ll meet folks taking the comfortable walk– first described in a guidebook in 1871– in the opposite direction up to Beech Cliff from the parking area at the southern end of Beech Hill Road.  Continue south to West Ridge Trail to emerge from the woods at the southern end of Long Pond, where your bikes await.    Then bike Long Pond Road and Lurvey Spring Road back to the parking lot of Echo Lake.

Relax.  Gaze ahead for two miles as Echo Lake shimmers like an aquatic valley between Beech Mountain rising above it to the west and Acadia and St. Sauveur Mountains to the east.

Or…jump in for a swim…and make this day a triathlon of fun!

Echo Lake Beach Acadia

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Have you ever hiked Beech Cliff Ladder Trail?  Please add your comments!  Or tell us all about another trail and why you like it.

May 182013
 

maine destination weddingsApril showers bring May flowers, then June graduations and weddings.  And, although my daughter graduates from college in June, she’s pretty far from a wedding (although she has been dating a great guy for three years).

I was the one who began thinking about weddings recently when my online browsing introduced me to Maine wedding photographer Brea McDonald.  Her work would convince any couple to choose Mount Desert Island as the destination for their wedding!

During the last ten years destination weddings have skyrocketed like love on a starlit night. Today they represent one out of every four weddings.  Says Laura Cave of The Knot, “Our families and our friends are so far flung throughout the country.  It makes total sense that a bride and groom would want to choose a wedding site that’s beautiful for them and a lot of fun for their friends.”

Mount Desert Island fits those criteria.  Brea McDonald, whose home base is York, Maine, has photographed weddings in Maine, New Hampshire, Nantucket, Cape Cod, and Boston.  According to Brea, Mount Desert Island is a great location for a New England wedding because “it has it all — boating, fishing, hiking, shopping and, of course, eating.”

That’s particularly because Mount Desert Island is home to Acadia National Park, the first national park east of the Mississippi.  Its granite-topped mountains, rocky coastline and glacial lakes attracted 2.4 million visitors last year.  And these distinctive geographical features make a stunning setting for wedding vows, whether anchored by spruce or birch…

wedding acadia national park maine

maine wedding venue harbor

…or enclosing the couple in an autumnal tunnel of love.

maine weddings fall

Charming villages are located throughout Mount Desert Island.  Their harbor-side classic inns and elegant gardens are the kind of venues brides dream about and cherish through their photographs for years to come.

asticou inn northwest harbor maine

maine wedding venue garden

One couple Brea photographed opted for the ceremony aboard a four-masted schooner and the reception in a harbor-side meadow.

maine wedding venues boats

maine wedding venues harbors

Couples who have a bent toward the casual seem to gravitate toward Maine for their weddings.  They may start with their topsiders on, but are likely to kick up (and off) their heels before long.

maine wedding venues casual

maine weddings casual

And they’re not afraid to be caught in a wedding photo tasting a lobster leg.  In fact, that’s part of the instructions.

wedding menus lobster

maine weddings lobster

That brings us to food.  Mount Desert Island is home to fishermen (including lobstermen) and farmers (including wonderful organic growers), so the culinary delights at a Maine wedding are great.  What floats your boat – clams or oysters?

Maine wedding menus

maine weddings menus oysters

A lobster bake makes a memorable menu.

maine wedding lobsterbake

So, if my daughter gets engaged and asks me what I think about a wedding on Mount Desert Island, I’m going to say: “A beautiful setting? Check.  Great food for the reception?  Check.  Fun for your friends? Check.  Memorable?  Check.”

And did I mention her boyfriend is graduating from Harvard Law in June?

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Brea McDonald Photography

The Knot’s Maine Wedding Albums

 

Mar 312013
 

maine lobsterOne evening when we were having dinner at Red Sky restaurant in Southwest Harbor, Maine, the Executive Chef James Lindquist came over to our table to describe the specials.  The appetizer, he said, featured asparagus which was “in the ground this afternoon.”

James Lindquist

James Lindquist

This focus on what’s local and fresh has been a driving force behind the success of Red Sky and James Lindquist, who was featured in Fresh from Maine, the 2010 cookbook of “recipes and stories from the state’s best chefs”.  His vivid way of describing food and engaging the imagination of his diners is another reason the restaurant has received such acclaim from The New York Times, Travel and Leisure, Condé Nast Traveler, and Down East Magazine, among others.

Now, for the first time, enthusiastic home cooks are going to be able to cook with James, learning his approach, getting unique recipes, and taking advantage of the ingredients of Maine, including lobster.  On June 9-12 he will lead a three-day “Cooking Adventure,” limited to eight participants.

This cooking class will take place at Ann’s Point Inn on Mount Desert Island, home of Acadia National Park.  It will include three nights lodging at the scenic harbor-side inn, as well as local trips to discover the sources of Maine’s coveted ingredients.  Participants will prepare appetizer, entrée, and dessert courses for two dinners.  In addition, the program includes a three-course dinner at Red Sky.

Ann's Point Inn

Ann’s Point Inn

This “Cooking Adventure” is the brainchild of Alan Feuer, a former Computer Science professor, who moved to Maine with his wife Jeannette to start a second career as innkeeper of Ann’s Point. Under their stewardship, the inn, which opened in 2005, has not only been certified an Environmental Leader by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, but also selected as a Yankee Magazine Editor’s Choice in 2012 for “Best Acadian Escape.”

Says Alan Feuer, “For many guests at the inn, eating well-prepared food is as important as the breathtaking scenery and exhilarating physical activity Acadia offers.”   The Feuers updated their inn’s open kitchen in 2012 giving it plentiful work space and a direct water view. He adds, “Kitchens are magical places. They turn raw material into delicious food, and strangers into friends.”

In addition to lodging, two dinners prepared by the class, and a dinner at Red Sky, the “Cooking Adventure” package includes three full breakfasts at Ann’s Point Inn. These feature freshly baked pastries, fresh fruit, and a main course that alternates between the sweet and savory. James Lindquist says, “Jeannette Feuer is an accomplished breakfast chef in her own right!”

The eight people who participate in the first “Cooking Adventure” collaboration will take home recipes of the two dinners they prepared together and a signed copy of Fresh from Maine. Cost for the package is $1750 for two people. For more information, call 207-244-9595 or email info@annspoint.com.

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Attention, Foodies: Take a Detour to Bartlett Winery When You Visit Acadia National Park in Maine

Second Life as an Innkeeper in Maine