Lynn

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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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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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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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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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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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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Jul 212013
 

What’s your favorite kind of hike?  A stroll alongside a pond?  A heart-pumping scramble across boulders?  An exciting squeeze through a narrow ravine?  Anything that provides the reward of spectacular views?

Hiking the west side of Pemetic Mountain provides all of these and more.

At 1,248 feet, Pemetic Mountain is only about 300 feet shorter than Cadillac, Mount Desert Island’s highest peak and star attraction for visitors to Acadia National Park.  Yet, unlike Cadillac, which is to its east, Pemetic has no tour buses obscuring the views and offers an exceptionally varied hike to its summit.

Jordan Pond The Bubbles

We started the 4.6 mile loop from the Jordan Pond House, warming up on the pleasant, well-traveled path along the eastern shore of Jordan Pond with the Bubbles in the distance.  We crossed a flat stone bridge, passing a vigorous junior hiker, then a wood foot bridge.

Jordan Pond Trail Acadia National Park

The Jordan Pond Carry Trail brought us to the Park Loop Road, where we entered the woods and started the challenging scramble across a boulder field.

Pemetic  Mountain West Side

We then came to a signpost, offering the option to hike through a ravine or across the steep, smooth granite to the right.  Even though it was wet, we opted for the ravine.  (This was not my first time through this ravine, so we had prepared with good mosquito repellant!)

Ravine Pemetic Mountain Acadia National Park

The ravine is not as tight as the popular Lemon Squeeze in New York’s Hudson Valley.  It has two sections, each of which you emerge from by climbing a large wooden ladder.  I think it is really fun.

Ravine Pemetic Mountain

At the summit you first get breathtaking views of deep, steel-blue Jordan Pond.

Jordan Pond from Pemetic Mountain Acadia National Park

More spectacular views of the Cranberry Isles follow as you traverse the mountain and start your descent along the southern ridge.

Pemetic Mountain Cranberry Islands Acadia National Park

I highly recommend hiking with a detailed trail map, such as the one of Acadia published by Map Adventures.  I never leave home without it.  Acadia’s trails are much trickier than you think, even if you have prepared by studying a trail guide.

One other thing that makes a hike a favorite of mine: a stretch of trail covered by a cushion of pine needles.  It’s a great way to end a challenging hike.  And this trail had that, too.

Pemetic Mountain Acadia National Park

 

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