Kat and I visited Acadia National Park in September, 1996. We were struck by the harsh beauty of water crashing upon rock, mountains capped by the green of thick forests, and we enjoyed many an overlook. The Park now offers a free shuttle service on account of vehicular overcrowding. You don’t see much from a bus, but if you dismount you’ll invest half an hour until the next shuttle arrives. We got out at Thunder Hole, but the tide was wrong for thunder, and the ride back to the Visitors Center required 20 minutes of standing and gripping a rail.
Acadia is the remnants of a mountain range formed by volcanic eruptions around 480 million years past. Recent Ice Ages (between 16,000 and 2,000,000 years ago) set off serious glacier movement, leaving rocks and huge boulders everywhere, not to mention sculpting the landscape and what now is the seascape. The oceanic floor carving extends out over 300 miles, and the glacially carved contours of the ocean floor created prime lobster habitat.
Days after our Acadian bus ride we booked a tour on the Margaret Todd, a four-masted schooner recently restored to her greatest glory. She was built late in the 19th century as a sail-powered freighter hauling crops, salted fish, and lumber from Bar Harbor to Boston, New York, and Baltimore. 151 feet long, this ship draws 12’ of water with benches for 150 people. She is operated by a crew of six, plus a couple of shoremen. Sailing big ships is hard work, and putting up 5,000 square feet of canvas takes coordinated effort, not to mention muscle. Oh, but sailing is a glorious way to see Acadia NP.
Our sea cruise of Frenchman’s Bay saw lobstermen emptying and baiting their traps, then resetting them 200 feet below the surface. They must check each trap at least every 48 hours lest their catch cannibalize itself. Lobsters prefer herring as bait, but often settle for less desirable fish. Catching them is hard work, but lobsters are plentiful (thanks to size limits and the overfishing of cod, their primary predator). Huge catches insure that lobstermen earn some money but also lowers the price. Last week we paid $6.75 a pound for them to a fisherman just down the road. This morning the price is down to $5. Wow!
Our cruise passed the group of Porcupine Islands, a few harbor seals, a gray seal, maybe some porpoises, and in silhouette I saw what the ranger called a juvenile bald eagle. With the sun behind, it looked more like one of those plastic owls that horrify pigeons. It did, and entrepreneurs like to sell tour tickets: I can’t say for sure.
Bar Harbor is a tourist town. Private parking is so scarce the city holds a monopoly on the parking resource, which they mine most efficiently. Our cruise routinely takes two hours, but the booking people insist you board half an hour early. Street-side parking does not involve meters, which seems a good thing, but is not. Every street-side parking spot is marked as 15 minutes or two hours only. We settled for a two hour spot then hiked ten minutes to the pier. After our cruise, we hiked ten minutes back, meaning there was 2 hours and 40 minutes on our clock. Our ticket was written at 3:59, one full minute before the ship’s tour ended. Most tellingly, every car on our block also wore a Bar Harbor “Hello Tourist” thank you note. This city lives to fleece you. Plan to add $15 to your meal, your whale or puffin cruise, and even your National Park Service approved sailing tour. Everyone gets ticketed; just budget it.
Bar Harbor’s municipal government is funded by cheating tourists. There is a solution: Maine’s state legislature is considering a state-wide $5 limit to overtime parking tickets aimed precisely at Bar Harbor. A surer solution is come to Acadia in September when the crowds are gone. By then the town has laid off its meter maids — the public lots have vacancies.
*My apologies to the memory of Thomas Hardy, both for using his acclaimed title, and for the fact I felt compelled to resort to Cliff’s Notes to review it in college.