Many of us Mainers, who grew up not-so-far from Acadia National Park, likely grew up taking the place for granted.
I know I did.
When I was very young, trips to Mount Desert Island were infrequent, and I seem to remember complaining about spending so much time in the car. As I reached high school and college age, I made a point to head “to the island,” as we began calling it, as often as I could.
Still, I don’t think I really appreciated the gift that sits just 45 miles from Bangor — an easy ride, even when thousands of tourists crowd Route 1A and traffic slows to a crawl in Holden and Ellsworth.
On Friday, I’ll take a moment to try to do better, and to spend a few minutes thinking about all of the great times and wonderful scenes I’ve taken in while visiting Acadia.
Well, it’s a pretty important day. On July 8, 1916 — 100 years ago — President Woodrow Wilson established Sieur de Monts National Monument on Mount Desert Island. Three years later, the place was renamed “Acadia,” and became an official national park.
And since its origination, it has been a true gift to visitors from around the globe.
As part of an upcoming project, I was recently tasked with asking a variety of people what Acadia meant to them. Today, I’ll turn that question around, and share some thoughts and memories of my own, gathered over several decades.
Today, I’m happy to say, I take Acadia much less for granted, and have come to more fully appreciate its grandeur and the experiences I’ve had there.
I remember my first popover at Jordan Pond House, sitting on the lawn with dozens of other guests, enjoying a beautiful summer day. I also remember that a swarm of bees was very interested in the jam that sat on each table.
I remember a day, years later, leading my future wife and her children on a hike around Jordan Pond. Well, “leading” is probably the wrong word. The kids led. For the most part, we followed … or struggled to keep up.
The iconic views from the top of Cadillac are certainly stunning; earning those views by actually hiking up one of Acadia’s many peaks is even more rewarding.
I remember many trips around Park Loop Road, and the mandatory stop at Thunder Hole, “just in case.” Thunder Hole doesn’t always thunder, you see. Sometimes, it sloshes. Sometimes, it gurgles. Sometimes, it does nothing at all.
But I’ve stopped and conditions are right, the waves crash in, the spray rockets into the air, and I’m glad I didn’t simply drive on by. Come to think of it, even on thunder-free days, I’m glad I took the time to stop for a bit.
Sand Beach is a personal favorite. For several years, I took a volleyball net there on weekends and invited total strangers to join in for a game or three. Friends would tag along, bring snacks, and we’d make a day of it. Hopefully, some of those strangers — many of whom were surprised that my friends and I invited them to play — remember those days as fondly as I do.
Over in Southwest Harbor, Seawall is one of those places I’ve come to love. Pull off the road and park. Look across at Great Cranberry Island. Walk on the rocks, if you like. Relax. It’s not called the “Quiet Side” for nothing.
No matter where you go in the park, the pink granite of Acadia glows. Down near the sea, the relentless Atlantic pounds against those rugged cliffs. I remember packing a picnic lunch, searching for the perfect flat rock that can serve as a table — don’t worry, there are thousands to choose from — and sitting silently, watching Mother Nature at work.
In downtown Bar Harbor, I’ve found, the crowds can get a little maddening. On the roads through the park, you can still feel crowded.
Acadia’s magic, however, remains. Step away from the car, amble onto a path, or down to the shore, and things change.
The crowds vanish. A sense of peacefulness takes over. The sights, and sounds, and smells take over.
Every single time.
Happy Birthday, Acadia.
Thanks for the memories … and the memories yet to be made.
BDN readers, do me a favor if you will. We’re interested in hearing your Acadia stories, too. So tell us: What does Acadia mean to you? Send your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org.
John Holyoke can be reached at email@example.com or 990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke.