Sep 132015

I’m in advertising, and we talk all a lot about the price/value equation for consumers:  Will the value of the product or service offset—or surpass—the cost?

Let me help you be just as analytical about how to pick a hiking trail from among Acadia National Park’s unsurpassed network of 125 miles of trails and 45 miles of carriage roads.  For example, will the value of the scenery be greater than the investment of energy on a trail? 

I think the Gorham Mountain Trail gives you a great pay-off for minimal effort to get to its 525-foot peak.  As you ascend, breathtaking views of Otter Cliffs are behind you.

Otter Cliffs

Better and better views of Sand Beach and Great Head lie ahead.  These are some of the most iconic vistas of the Maine coastline that have entranced hikers since the early 1900s, when fashionable hiking groups were drawn to these very same sights.

Sand Beach and Great Head

Park at the Gorham Mountain Trail parking lot, 0.3 miles past Thunder Hole on the Park Loop Road.  As you head north on the trail, you’ll see hikers from parents with their three-year-olds in tow…

hikers acadia national park

…to white-haired “wrinklies” taking a rest along the way.

hikers acadia national park

It’s just a little over a mile to the top.  After reaching the summit, which is clearly marked with both a sign and groups of picnicking hikers, you can back-track on the same path or make this a 4-mile loop by descending on the Bowl Trail to the Park Loop Road.  Here you can join the many visitors enjoying the scenery along the easy Ocean Path, which will take you back south to your car.

Veteran Acadia hiker Tom St. Germain classifies this loop as a “moderate” hike.  If you choose to go up and back Gorham Mountain Trail, I’d rank it as “moderately easy.”

What if the “price” factor in your value equation involves both physical effort and safety?  For example, you might feel more comfortable sticking with walks on the carriage roads.  Let’s face it.  If you’re nervous about getting lost or having trouble with your footing, it could ruin the thrill of the grand panoramas and the intimate pleasures of a wooded trail.

So, let’s get comfortable about Gorham Mountain Trail.  First of all, you won’t be alone.  Lots of friendly hikers will be there to tell you what’s ahead.  Still, I always bring a map when I’m hiking anywhere in Acadia.  On Gorham Mountain Trail, there are a couple of options for side trails, so a map is particularly nice on this trail to increase your confidence as you navigate.

Secondly, the trail is very well marked.  Blue blazes painted on the granite rock indicate where to go.

blue blazes mark trails in acadia national park

Lines of rock also prevent you from going in the wrong direction.

hiking trail acadia national parkAcadia also has a unique stone trail marker that has helped hikers navigate trails since the early 1900s.

cairns mark the way in acadia

It’s called a Bates cairn, named after Waldron Bates, a leader in creating Mount Desert Island’s hiking trail system at the beginning of the century, for whom there is an honorary plaque on this trail.  The pointer rock on the top of a Bates cairn indicates the direction of the trail, as does the space between the two base rocks.Bates cairnSo, enjoy your hike!  The views on Gorham Mountain Trail are stunning, the fellow walkers friendly, and the path itself historic.  For me, it’s always been another big “plus” of this hike knowing that others, who share my deep respect for the beauty of nature, have shared the same trail for over 100 years.


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Sep 072015

At the top of the hill heading north out of Southwest Harbor—where a restaurant of that name served patrons for years—now stands the reincarnation of Town Hill Bistro, which closed in the spring of 2014.  Within weeks of re-opening this July, the parking lot is full and the new restaurant has climbed to the top of the rankings on TripAdvisor.  The seasoned wife and husband team, Maureen Cosgrove and JJ Zeph, are calling their new venture the Rogue Café.

Why Rogue Café?  When I visited recently, Maureen and JJ were too busy for me to ask, so I’ll have to speculate.  Is it because it’s a bit playful to change the menu daily, depending upon what Maureen has discovered in the Mount Desert Island farmers markets where she sources her ingredients? Or perhaps they were thinking of Maureen as Rogue, the Marvel Comics female superhero who, displaying her magical powers back in the kitchen, has limited her physical contact with others.  It certainly takes superhuman abilities to run such a tight operation.

When we dined, we noted that the wait staff was made up of former employees, as well as veterans from other top restaurants among Mount Desert Island’s active culinary scene. The coordination of service among the team was as if they had been working together for years.  And their enthusiasm for the new operation was palpable.  “I’m so thrilled you’re back,” I said to one server.  “That’s so nice to hear every night,” she responded.

Queso BlancoSimplicity and freshness characterize the menu.  Small plates are likely to thrill you solely with the flavor of the greens that adorn them.  To start I tried a special plate of seared queso blanco with a wonderful jalapeno jelly, but I couldn’t stop raving about the arugula.  For his entrée, my husband ordered chicken thighs lightly accented with Asian flavors.  Again, the star of the show was the quality of the chicken itself, which reminded me of how chicken tasted when I was a kid.  Large plates offer a wide variety of meat and fish, plus tantalizing options for vegetarians.

rogue cafe southwest harbor maineThe new space accommodates more diners than the cabin in Town Hill.  Although it has a pitched ceiling of pine wood that is reminiscent of the former quarters, the walls are light with brightly colored works of art.  There is a larger main dining area, with two other more intimate alcoves of three or four tables each.  It all feels open and airy.  Central to the space, physically and metaphorically, is a large bar which provides comfortable space for about eight people to dine.  As at Town Hill Bistro, I expect it will be full year-round not only with new guests, but old friends and other restaurateurs who give this establishment its uniquely intimate vibe.

I’m most excited about what Maureen’s new kitchen must be like.  I hope she’s happy!  Past patrons are.  Reincarnation never felt so heavenly.

Rogue Café, 1 Main Street, Southwest Harbor, Maine, 207-244-7101


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 Posted by at 9:34 pm
Aug 112015

Maine wild blueberries

If you love hiking, biking, and kayaking, then your Maine vacation is likely to take you to Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island.  And by the time you’ve finished exploring—there are 125 miles of hiking trails and 45 miles of carriage roads–you will have worked up quite an appetite.  Since you’re in Maine, satisfying it means lobster.  But it also means blueberries.  And if you thought blueberries just meant blueberry pie, then you have some culinary exploration in store for you as well!

This flavor adventure is about wild blueberries, not the big fat cultivated variety found year-round in grocery stores.  Wild blueberries grow naturally in the fields and barrens that stretch along Maine’s Downeast coast.  More intense in flavor than their cultivated cousins, they are an ephemeral pleasure, in season for only six short weeks in late summer.

Here are my favorite ways to enjoy wild blueberries both on vacation and back at home as a memory-inducing agent as effective as any madeleine.

Mary blueberry pie Maine

Celebrate summer with blueberry pie. Locals were the first ones to rave to me about Mary’s pies, which she sells next to her home in a cottage called Island Bound Treats, 302 Main Street, just outside of downtown Southwest Harbor. If you only want a slice, stop by the Quietside Café in town. Frances bakes her blueberry pies mile high.

Thurstons_low res

Try blueberry spice cake. Thurston’s Lobster Pound in Bass Harbor has become a destination for visitors to Acadia. The lobster dinner includes the celebrated crustacean, corn on the cob, coleslaw, a roll, and Thurston’s own blueberry spice cake. We always take home extra spice cake for the next day’s breakfast.

maine blueberry muffins

Sample blueberry muffins by scouting fairs and festivals. You’ll benefit from the friendly competition of the local bakers who are contributing to some important causes. For example, every August the Somesville Village Library hosts a book sale and blueberry festival replete with treats.

MDI Ice Cream

Get a cone of blueberry buttermilk ice cream at MDI Ice Cream at 7 Firefly Lane and 325 Main Street in Bar Harbor, even though blueberry wasn’t President Obama’s choice when he visited this award-winning artisanal ice cream shop. He picked coconut. Frankly, our favorite is salt caramel—scooped on top of blueberry pie, of course.

Great Head Overlooking Sand Beach Acadia Maine

Buy blueberry scones or other blueberry-laden treats at the Sunday farmers’ market in Bar Harbor. From 9am until noon, May through October, it’s right off Main Street in the YMCA parking lot.   Bring a thermos of coffee and hike to nearby Great Head for breakfast overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.

blueberry pancakes

Pick your own blueberries on the mountain as you explore Acadia National Park. Wild blueberries abound along trails. The National Park Service allows you to pick as much as you can eat! If you remember the proper containers, you can also take two quarts per day home. That’s enough for blueberry pancakes and a whole lot more.

wild blueberries Maine

Buy local. If you don’t have time to pick your own, you can buy wild blueberries at roadside stands and local markets throughout Mount Desert Island. You’ll find them at Sawyer’s Market in Southwest Harbor and supermarkets such as Hannaford’s in Bar Harbor.

Cold River blueberry vodka

Keep summer alive with blueberry vodka. Cold River flavors its potato vodka with wild blueberries for a two-in-one winner of Maine’s bounty. I like combining it with lemonade and a touch of club soda, but it’s most distinctive on the rocks. Wine Enthusiast Magazine called it “an 80-proof homage to Mother Nature with a voluminous bouquet and a finish like the holy chorus of blueberries.”

blueberry cake

Bring blueberries home in a jar. Maine’s Own Treats at 68 Bar Harbor Road in Trenton is a perfect place to stop for blueberry jams and jelly as you’re departing Mount Desert Island. They’re homemade in small batches with no dyes or preservatives. My favorite is the blueberry preserves, which I use to top ice cream and blueberry cake! Don’t go home without ‘em.


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 Posted by at 8:31 pm
Sep 072014

Jordan Pond The BubblesFall foliage fans flock to New England every year to marvel at the stunning displays of crimson, gold, and green.  This year there are many reasons to choose Acadia National Park in Maine for your leaf-peeping tour.

Let’s start with the setting.  Here mountains of color are surrounded by the ocean and intercut with glacial lakes of deep sapphire.

You can view autumn’s display from the comfort of your car, especially as you motor along Acadia’s 27-mile Park Loop Road.  Reflecting the thoughtful partnership of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., it circumnavigates much of the park and provides access to Cadillac Mountain, which is the highest point along the North Atlantic seaboard.

Better still, you can experience fall’s finest up close as you walk, scramble, or hike Acadia’s 125 miles of trails.  In addition, 45 miles of carriage roads take you deep into the park either on foot or bicycle.  Here you can inhale the scent of balsam and hear the sounds of seagulls and waves, as your eyes take in the explosion of color.

Acadia ranger program photo workshopAnother reason visitors opt for fall vacations in Acadia is because the national park provides such an array of park ranger programs.  Summertime favorites are still available, including Stars Over Sand Beach and the photography workshop Focus on Acadia, which has great appeal in autumn.  The National Park Service adds special programs in the fall, such as an easy 1-mile Autumn Ramble and the Hawk watch atop Cadillac to learn about raptor migration.

Neighboring communities, Bar Harbor and Southwest Harbor among them, also offer many entertainment options.  This year, Oktoberfest in Southwest Harbor starts with a wine and cheese tasting on Friday, October 10, then explodes on Saturday into a Beerfest, with games, music, and an antique car display—along with tastings offered by the best microbreweries in New England.

Pumpkins Bar Harbor Farmers MarketIf fall flavors tempt your palate, Maine puts great local ingredients in the hands of nationally recognized chefs.  They creatively explore what apples, pumpkins, squash, and corn can do to complement the lobster and seafood visitors crave.  Some of the restaurants best known for their seasonal menus are Red Sky, Fathom, Mache Bistro, and Burning Tree.

So, if you’ve now know where you want to go, you just have to decide when.  Maine’s Fall Foliage Website can help you start planning now.

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Aug 132014

Good Morning America, ABC News’ popular morning program, asked its viewers to identify their favorite place in America.  With nominations ranging from Chicago’s Lakefront to Alabama’s Gulf Shores, Acadia National Park came in at the top.  It’s easy to understand why.

The views are breathtaking.  Maine’s rocky coastline, rich spruce forests, and pristine lakes are set around 24 mountain peaks.  And because Acadia was created through private donations of land tracts, some of Maine’s most charming villages–think white-steepled churches and village greens–are nestled alongside the national park.

There’s not only a lot to see, but a lot to do.  Whether you are a family with kids, girlfriends on a get-away, or a couple combining adventure and romance, Acadia National Park offers many different activities.  People who love the outdoors hike, bike, and kayak.  Art lovers roam galleries.  And everyone eats lobster.

There’s so much to enjoy, in fact, that a little advance planning pays off.  Consider what you want to do most in the amount of time you have.  And remember that certain events are not offered daily.  For example, some of the Park Ranger Programs occur only once or twice a week, so check out the schedule of events and plan around it.  And remember, with Acadia National Park ranked by GMA viewers as their “Favorite Place in America,” you may want to get reservations in advance for the most popular restaurants!

Don’t miss these highlights…

If you have three days

  • Drive the Park Loop Road, taking in the key sights such as Frenchman Bay, Ocean Trail, Thunder Hole, Otter Cliffs, and Jordan Pond.
  • Hike a trail from among the 125 miles of stunning, well-maintained routes on the island.  Consider Jordan Pond as a starting point so that you can efficiently include lunch or tea (popovers, lemonade, chowder) at Jordan Pond House.
  • Visit the “Quiet Side,” being sure to see Somes Sound, the postcard-perfect Somesville Bridge, Echo Lake, Bass Harbor Headlight, and the fishing village of Bass Harbor.
  • Have dinner at Thurston’s Lobster Pound in Bernard on the “Quiet Side.”  

If you have one week

  • Add in a sea kayaking tour – great from Bar Harbor in the morning, Southwest Harbor for sunset — or just rent a kayak and paddle around on your own in one of the lakes.
  • Take a horse-drawn carriage drive from Wildwood Stables, an Acadia tradition.
  • Go to Sand Beach – swim if you dare.
  • Go mini-golfing at Pirate’s Cove in Bar Harbor.
  • Shop in Bar Harbor and explore the waterfront.

If you have two weeks

  • Bike along any of Acadia’s 45 miles of scenic carriage roads.
  • Get up early one morning to see the sunrise from Cadillac Mountain.
  • Attend a ranger-led program, whether it’s to explore tidal pools or visit an 1800s farm house.
  • Take a boat ride in the Starfish Enterprise with Diver Ed  or in a romantic, historic Friendship Sloop.
  • Work in a second hike on another part of the island – the views and terrain are so varied!
  • Visit the village of Southwest Harbor to shop and have a lobster roll and blueberry pie.
  • Seek out a Maine public supper or flea market — and enjoy the company of locals.
  • Schedule a family rock-climbing expedition.
  • Visit an oceanarium with touch tanks to see marine life up close and personal.
  • Attend a tour of one of Mount Desert Island’s award-winning local breweries.

Now that you have a calendar of activities sketched out, consult OUR ACADIA for guides, tours, and outfitters.  Mount Desert Island is also the home not only of sublime traditional lobster pounds, but creative young chefs who are making the most of local seafood and produce.  Check out the restaurant reviews on OUR ACADIA and consider making some reservations ahead of time, especially during the height of summer season.

Then, after your trip, be sure to tell us what you loved the most about Acadia National Park!

 Posted by at 5:29 pm

Bird Watching on Mount Desert Island in Maine—Another Victory for the Nerds

 travel, Uncategorized  Comments Off on Bird Watching on Mount Desert Island in Maine—Another Victory for the Nerds
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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Acadia’s 18th Annual Oktoberfest Draws Old Fans and Creates New Ones

 Food and Dining, travel  Comments Off on Acadia’s 18th Annual Oktoberfest Draws Old Fans and Creates New Ones
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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Government Shutdown of Acadia National Park: It Won’t Spoil Your Trip to Maine

 travel  Comments Off on Government Shutdown of Acadia National Park: It Won’t Spoil Your Trip to Maine
Oct 012013
Acadia Mountain

The view from Acadia Mountain, access to which is not affected by the national park closure.

The government closure of national parks, effective October 1, 2013, has affected thousands of visitors looking forward to seeing Acadia National Park this fall.  With National Park webpages also shutdown, official information is limited.  However, local experts have stepped in to share the latest information on such social media sites as TripAdvisor, where postings under “Contingency Plans” in the Bar Harbor forum are filling the gaps for worried travelers.

The Park Loop Road has been closed, thereby barring roadway access to such popular attractions as Cadillac Mountain and Jordan Pond House. The Hulls Cove Visitors Center is also closed.

That’s the bad news.  On the other hand, the Island Explorer bus system is running and ferrying visitors throughout the island.  In addition, as Acadia National Park Deputy Superintendent Len Bobinchock told the Portland Press Herald, “You can’t lock up trails, but you can close the roads that lead into the park.”  Because skeletal crews are not adequate to handle extensive search and rescue operations in the case of emergencies, the National Park Service is asking people to stay off the park’s trails until the shutdown is over.  However, they are not requiring people to leave, it seems.  If you do decide to hike, exercise good judgment.

Acadia National Park occupies only about one half of Mount Desert Island.  The sublime beauty of this area far surpasses any single mountain or pond, and a government closure of the national park won’t lock you out of enjoying a trip to Downeast Maine.

Here are 7 ways you can enjoy Acadia National Park and Mount Desert Island, despite Congress.

  1. Hike to the top of Cadillac Mountain.  And, in fact, with no tourist buses circumnavigating the top, the summit may be just that much more peaceful.  There are trails from all four points of the compass, but the easiest to access during the closure is to the Cadillac South Ridge Trail, a long, but gradual climb 3.7 miles each way.  The trailhead is on Route 3, just south of the entrance to Blackwoods Campground.  It is a lovely hike, with spectacular views, just be prepared for the 7.4 miles of hiking and remember, of course, that you are hiking at your own risk.
  2. Choose another mountain to climb.  If you are not up for such a long hike, there are many other alternatives.  Consider Acadia Mountain, with its great views of Somes Sound and the Atlantic beyond.  Its trailhead is on Route 102 between Somesville and Southwest Harbor.  A moderate loop including both Acadia and neighboring St. Sauveur Mountain is 4.2 miles.  Another great choice is Beech Mountain.  There are also several different trails to its summit—none of which is affected by park closures.  Tom St. Germain’s excellent hiking guide, available in bookstores throughout Bar Harbor, can provide you with all of the details.
  3. Bike around Eagle Lake.  The carriage roads around the lake are just off Eagle Lake Road/Route 233.  According to the TripAdvisor posts on October 1st, cars were lined up along the roadway, indicating that the carriage roads were still open.  These carriage roads connect to others in the network, including the road that runs closely along Bubble Pond, with Cadillac Pond towering above.  The reflections of the colorful foliage of the West Face on Bubble Pond are compelling for any photographer.  Walking around Eagle Lake is also a good option. 
  4. Go sea kayaking.  “They can’t control the water, so we’ll still be open” was the message of Mark Fletcher at Aquaterra Adventures in Bar Harbor.  This operator of group kayaking tours launches from a private dock on West Street, so there’s no need to worry about park closures.  Another option is National Park Sea Kayak, also in Bar Harbor, which leads tours on the western side of Mount Desert Island, including popular sunset trips. 
  5. Take a horse-drawn carriage ride.  Although the national park concession at Wildwood Stables will be closed, you can enjoy a carriage ride throughout Bar Harbor with Wild Iris Horse Farm.  The driver discusses points of interest, as well as the history of the town.  Says owner Sandi Read, “It’s a great way to experience Bar Harbor the way it was before the days of automobiles.”
  6. Visit Bass Harbor.  Although the roadway to Bass Harbor Head Light has been barricaded, you can walk a short distance to see this lighthouse listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Then drive the short distance down to the harbor.  A stroll around this working lobster harbor in late afternoon is full of charms.  Walk along the shoreline and down on the pier.  Whether it’s a skiff, a pile of lobster traps, some worn-out buoys, or a Boston whaler, the scene is iconic Maine and stunningly beautiful in late-afternoon golden light.  Don’t forget your camera.
  7. Enjoy Mount Desert Island’s villages.  From Bar Harbor to Bass Harbor and Northeast Harbor to Southwest Harbor, each has its own personality.  Don’t miss Somesville, in the center of the island, with its charming Japanese-style bridge, one of the most photographed spots in Maine. 

You’ll find more tips for fall trips to Acadia here.  Have a great vacation!

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A New Yorker Talks to Herself about Maine: The Blue Hill Fair

 travel  Comments Off on A New Yorker Talks to Herself about Maine: The Blue Hill Fair
Sep 282013
Blue Hill Fair near Acadia National Park 4H member

4-H member proudly poses with her goat at the Blue Hill Fair

“When the udder is nicely attached like this, that’s good,” explained the pretty, blue-eyed member of the 4-H goat program. Then she moved gracefully over to another goat in the small pen and swung her hand to its underside to demonstrate a dangling udder, pointing out, “Not like this.”

What makes an award-winning goat was what had piqued my curiosity as I wandered among the livestock shows at the Blue Hill Fair, which was celebrating 100 years of 4-H in Maine.  In addition to these exhibits, which highlight the skills of 4-H members in animal husbandry, the fair draws over 30,000 locals and visitors each year to flower and vegetable shows, midway rides, special events, and entertainment.  It has run continuously since 1891 and, in fact, was the fair that  provided E. B. White’s imagination with the details for Wilbur’s competition, Fern’s Ferris wheel ride, Templeton’s foraging, and, of course, Charlotte’s web.  Along with other Maine fairs, including the granddaddy of them all, the Fryeburg Fair, which takes place September 29th through October 6th this year and draws ten times the audience, it is an important part of Maine’s agricultural heritage and a great thing to do on a vacation to Maine in early fall.

Agricultural exhibits at Blue Hill Fair

Visitors to the Blue Hill Fair pet a terrific pig.

A couple of days before we went to the Blue Hill Fair I read Charlotte’s Web.  Like a magical travel brochure, it lit my anticipation to go back in time to an old-fashioned country fair.  But, when we finally got around to going on Sunday afternoon, my spirits dipped.  The Open Sheep Dog Trials were over, and the Farmers Ox Pull had come and gone.  But the sun was shining, and crowds gathered casually around the barns to witness young 4-H members exhibit the skills they’d mastered in agriculture, community involvement, and leadership.  “There’s no place like a country fair for the youth of 4-H to showcase their skills,” I read in the program, and my enthusiasm built as I chatted with the girls about their Nubians, LaManchas, and Alpines.  (LaManchas are the ones with such tiny ears that they appear to have none at all.)

Blue Hill Fair Maine

Visiting the goat exhibits at the Blue Hill Fair

After applauding the rescued dogs who demonstrated their Frisbee-catching skills in the “Disc-Connected K9 Show,” we headed toward the grandstand to view the 3600 Horse Pull.  This was a contest to see how far teams of two weighing no more than 3600 pounds could pull a sled of weights in five minutes.  Here the crowd watched intensely, politely but firmly asking those standing in front to sit down.

Horse pull at the Blue Hill Fair in Maine

Horse pull at the Blue Hill Fair

Heading back to the barns, I ogled accomplishments of those who had grown everything from sunflowers to peppers to tomatoes to squash.  I watched an old gentleman demonstrating how to cane a chair.  “It’s a lot of work, but you feel good to see it when it’s done,” he said.

chair caning Blue Hill Fair Maine

Chair caning was among the time-honored crafts demonstrated at the Blue Hill Fair

Finally, it was time to find a seat in the packed grandstand to watch more than 100 women compete in the much-anticipated Women’s Skillet Toss.  The announcer’s voice boomed that “The World’s Women” were invited to the Intercontinental and Greater Hancock County Women’s Skillet Toss Championship, and representatives from Maine, New York, California, New Hampshire, and Florida filed in to compete in the Kittens and Cougars classes.

Fans packed the grandstand at the Blue Hill Fair to watch the Women's Skillet Toss

Fans packed the grandstand at the Blue Hill Fair to watch the Women’s Skillet Toss

The contestants hurled cast iron skillets down a center line, suffering deductions when the skillet went off course.  Stacy Connor of Dedham, Maine, who won last year with a throw of 80 feet, 6 inches, demonstrated her dominance again this year, although her footage declined to 57 feet, 9 inches.  (I think she herself got a little “thrown off,” when her first toss in the final round flew over the fence and, as the crowd ducked and gasped, hit the announcer’s stand.

Women's skillet toss Blue Hill Fair

A contestant from Blue Hill winding up for the Women’s Skillet Toss

It was time to go home.  I hadn’t thought about 4-H in a long time.  I had lived in Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis, and New York since my childhood years in Massachusetts, when I sewed aprons and pin cushions in 4-H.  I remembered the pledge that encapsulates the four H’s—head, heart, hands, health—and thought that, at least on this sunny afternoon at a country fair in Maine, they all added up to a fifth: happiness.

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This October Take a Fall Photo Workshop in Maine’s Acadia National Park

 Photography, travel  Comments Off on This October Take a Fall Photo Workshop in Maine’s Acadia National Park
Sep 152013


Bass Harbor Lighthouse Maine

Bass Harbor Head Light Photo by Les Picker

Last March I got to go on a Lindblad/National Geographic expedition to Costa Rica that had a photography emphasis.  One of our guides was both a well-educated, local naturalist and certified photography instructor.  That combination of talents in the field—and Costa Rica is so amazing both close in and from afar—made the trip unusually satisfying.

If you’ve always wanted to participate in a photo workshop in Maine, I recommend you consider the upcoming Acadia National Park Photography Adventure that Lester Picker is offering  October 10-14, 2013.  It is conducted in conjunction with the Nikonians Academy, which is dedicated to teaching photography through hands-on practical workshops.

But I recommend it because Les Picker possesses that rare combination of environmental education and photographic know-how that I experienced on my National Geographic expedition.

Les received his doctorate in ecology from the University of Maine and used Acadia National Park for his research. Having lived in Maine for ten years, he knows the intricacies of Acadia in a way that’s rare for those offering photo workshops in Maine, and there are plenty of them.

Fall Foliage Photos

Photo by Workshop Participant Dave Soderlund

One of his students, Thomas Wilson of North Sandwich, New Hampshire, emphasized this in his review of the workshop, “Les’ knowledge of the history and flora of Acadia enriched the experience.”  Another student, Dave Soderlund of Ithaca, New York, echoed, “His depth of knowledge of the landscape, history and biology of the island informed our photography and took us to places that most other workshops just don’t see. Les provided itineraries that were well-balanced between iconic locations (Cadillac Mountain, Bass Harbor Lighthouse) and out-of-the-way gems.”

Les’ itinerary also includes The Bubbles, Jordan Pond, Ocean Drive, Sand Beach, and Cadillac Cliffs, as well as the villages of Bar Harbor, Southwest Harbor, Somesville, and Northeast Harbor—all places every visitor wants to see.

Each evening Les offers an optional image review and critique—an excellent opportunity since the workshop is limited to ten students.  Another Acadia workshop participant, Dr. Lew Rothman of New York City, said, “He offered solid and comprehensive shooting tips geared to our individual needs and provided insightful feedback after each shoot. Perhaps most important he provided additional opportunity to review and improve our images after we returned home from the workshop. He was genuinely interested in our progress and it didn’t end with the workshop.”

To find out more, visit the Nikonians Academy site, but  do it now.  When I was last in touch with Les, there were only a few spots left.

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