Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Acadia at 100

Acadia National Park's centennial summer is almost in the rear view mirror, and the crowd of visitors has been huge as expected, or in some cases, feared! Various indicators suggest that traffic and business in general around Mount Desert Island could be up as much as 40%.

It is ironic that all of this positive economic activity is happening around and because of a beloved national park, while at the same time folks in the economically stressed Katahdin region are arguing over the designation of a new Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument with about 88,000 acres of land donated by Roxanne Quimby.!

We at MountDesertIsland.Net have always valued our freedom and independence very highly, and we tend to be sympathetic to those who resist too much government control. However, we also recognize the value of preserving Maine's dramatic, unspoiled coast and her vast northern wilderness in the face of rapidly increasing development pressure. What to do?

In our opinion, government involvement is not always a bad thing. Sometimes it is necessary to protect the public interest, whether that interest be economic, aesthetic, or both. The establishment of the National Park Service 100 years ago and the designation of our many National Parks like Acadia has been described by Ken Burns as America's best idea. While some development interests might be unhappy, we believe most people would agree that National Parks have been a win, win situation for almost everyone. They preserve and protect our most scenic areas ,and draw visitors from all over the world who provide significant economic stimulus to local, often rural, communities.

As some 2.5 million, and perhaps as many as 3.5 million visitors to Mount Desert Island each year can attest, Acadia National Park is a highly regarded and essential part of our island community. Working closely with other non-profit conservation organizations like Maine Coast Heritage Trust, the Nature Conservancy, and Friends of Acadia, the Park provides a steady hand guiding our dramatic, unusual and incredibly beautiful landscape safely through the buffeting winds of change!

Congratulations, Thank You, and Happy Birthday Acadia! Here's to the next 100 years!

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Bits and Pieces

Once again, considerable time has passed since our last MDI Blog post, but is seems that events on our little island continue taking a back seat to much more significant national and international challenges.

That said, we thought it was past time to comment on a few bits and pieces – some of which are local, and some of which threaten to reshape our world!

Budget issues almost always dominate the discussion at Maine town meetings, just as they do in Augusta and in Washington D.C. Recently these budget discussions have very tentatively focused on the possibility of consolidating some MDI town services to both improve efficiency and reduce costs. Perhaps the most ambitious and most successful effort in this direction so far has been the sharing of a Police Chief and consolidation of Police Departments between The Town of Mount Desert and the Town of Bar Harbor. At MDI.Net we have been quite impressed with this project and believe that it will be a model for similar joint programs involving more island towns in the future! We also believe that this project has worked so well due largely to the open-minded and flexible attitude of everyone involved – Chief Willis, Bar Harbor and Mount Desert Police Officers, both Town Managers, members of the Mount Desert Board of Selectmen and the Bar Harbor Town Council, and local citizens. Congratulations to all!

There is a related matter playing out on the national stage and also showing examples here on Mount Desert Island. That would be the problem of income inequality. In our country as a whole, the top one percent of the people control around fifty percent of the wealth and income. These wealthy individuals are seeing their fortunes grow even larger every year while the remaining ninety nine percent struggle to pay their bills as they gradually lose ground to inflation. Local real estate markets reflect this situation as prices for year-round homes remain relatively stagnant while demand is strong for expensive, seasonal, waterfront estates. Teachers, firefighters, shop owners, etc. cannot afford the average $300,000 price for a year-round house while several summer mansions are currently under construction at prices ranging upward of $20-25 million each! When confronted with this issue, some have said “So what? I got mine, let them get theirs!” The trouble is that such an argument ignores one of the basic principles of economics – money makes money, and no money makes no money! The poor, which is rapidly including everyone other than the super rich, are trapped by both lack of opportunity and lack of income! If not redressed, income inequality can destroy our society.

In the run-up to the 2016 election, politics at both the State and National levels has been bizarre to say the least. Few regular citizens would have predicted the vitriolic side show we have seen in Augusta over the past year, and even fewer would have predicted the current crop of candidates for the most powerful and influential office in the world! Extreme polarization, voter apathy and voter ignorance are all in part responsible; but if we don't pull our heads out of the sand soon, we at MDI.Net fear for the future of our country!

And then there are the militant religious extremists around the world whose brutality and shocking terrorist tactics know no bounds. The likelihood of terrorism on our own soil increases by the day, and places like MDI, which have heretofore been thought of as safe havens, could well be at risk of experiencing a terrorist incident. Local law enforcement personnel and all local residents need to be aware of things going on around us at all times, and to avoid falling into the trap of thinking “it can't happen here”. Taking a wider view, we believe that as part of a broad coalition, the U.S. needs to be significantly more aggressive in eliminating ISIS and similar terrorist groups once and for all! We have to do it for our children!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Acadia Shut Down

Today the U.S. Federal Government was forced to shut down all non-essential services and activities, as Congress was unable to agree on a continuing funding resolution by the end of the budget year at midnight last night. Among the many agencies closing their doors this morning was our own Acadia National Park.

For anyone who has yet to figure it out, what we are seeing here is a high-stakes struggle between those who believe in a small, limited government, and who rely on free market systems to provide for the basic needs of the people, vs. those who believe that government has an important role to play in ensuring that people's basic needs are met, and that inevitable free market excesses or shortcomings are corrected. The government program currently being fought over is the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obama-care; a massive overhaul of our entire health care system.

To get even more basic – most people tend to like government services when those services are available to them. The problem is that they don't want to pay the taxes which are necessary to fund those services. Hence the unfortunate tendency to borrow for current services with the expectation that future generations will pay off the loan.

So far, our democratic system of government has been unable to handle and resolve these most fundamental issues, so we lurch from crisis to crisis with no good end in sight. There are many knowledgeable observers around the world who are becoming quite concerned that the United States is no longer able to govern itself, a situation that would have dire economic and social consequences for us all.

We here at MountDesertIsland.Net, probably like most Americans, come down somewhere in the middle on the proper role of government. A welfare state is not an appealing or effective option in the long run, because it tends to reduce the personal ambition and responsibility that enable a society to grow and prosper efficiently. On the other hand, unrestricted and uncontrolled free markets eventually result in imbalances that can undermine or even destroy a society. Leaving everyone to their own devices when resources are not evenly divided can lead to dysfunction and disaster.

So the loss we feel when our beloved Acadia National Park closes is symptomatic of a much larger and much more serious problem. In a properly functioning democracy, the ultimate solution to this larger and most fundamental problem should lie with informed, participating voters at the ballot box. But what happens when nearly half of the potential voters are neither informed nor participate? What happens when powerful special interest groups use huge sums of money to influence elections and our elected representatives for their own private gain? What happens when large segments of our society struggle to meet the day-to-day requirements of basic living, while a few others reap all the rewards of a privileged life?

We have a right to worry and be sad about the loss of access to our Acadia Park at this beautiful season of the year. But we have a much more important obligation to find a way to restore faith in our democratic system of government so our country can function, and so Acadia doesn't have to close again!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Freedom of Speech

While in Bar Harbor this weekend, we could not help but notice a small, vocal group of demonstrators staffing a prominent display set up on the Main Street sidewalk and advocating the impeachment of President Obama. In addition to signage, there were large portraits of the President with a Hitler style mustache. Thousands of summer tourists were strolling the streets, and two cruise ships were in port. A brief inquiry indicated that the group apparently did have a permit from the Town of Bar Harbor.

Observing the demonstrators for a short time, we saw many people cross the street to avoid passing directly in front of the display and also to avoid any verbal contact with the activists. That likely made shop owners on at least one side of Main Street rather unhappy. We also saw demonstrators gesturing to, and verbally interacting with, people who were forced by heavy traffic to drive up or down Main Street very slowly. In fairness, there was the occasional person who intentionally walked over to the demonstrators voicing support, signing their petition, or donating money.

In our view, this incident raises some difficult questions that require a lot of careful thought. Of course, our first priority must be to preserve the First Amendment right of everyone to speak their mind, no matter how offensive that speech might be to some willing, or even unwilling, listeners. Still, we also are aware that millions of people visit Mount Desert Island and Bar Harbor every year to both marvel at the natural beauty of Acadia National Park, and to enjoy for a brief few days the small-town atmosphere of a coastal Maine village which they like to think is far removed from the frustrating extremism and debilitating negativism that have become so much a hallmark of our political system.

As other interest groups see or hear about demonstrations like the one this weekend, it is likely that they too will want to take advantage of Bar Harbor's high visibility and heavy summer traffic. We believe that the Bar Harbor Town Council, with input from the town's attorneys, local citizens, and the Chamber of Commerce, should carefully review any pertinent ordinances to be sure that the rights and interests of all parties are adequately protected.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Independence Day 2011

It has been a long time since our last post on MDI Blog, and for that we sincerely apologize. During the intervening months, local issues have continued to be eclipsed by national and international economic and political events.

Here on Mount Desert Island, we like to think that because we are surrounded by the ocean and dramatic natural beauty, we are thus somehow insulated from the problems that are so apparent throughout our country and the rest of the world. Unfortunately, we are not! What happens in China, or in Afghanistan, or in Washington, or on Wall Street, or at the Federal Reserve, or along the Mexican border, or in other towns and cities throughout the United States; all eventually could have a serious adverse effect upon the quality of our life as well as the lives of our children and grandchildren, despite the fact that we live in this supposed haven along the Maine coast!

In our opinion, we as individuals and, collectively, as a nation currently face some of the most significant and difficult problems we have ever encountered since the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776. Now is not the time for ideological posturing, or for burying our heads in the sand, or for selfishly trying to enrich ourselves at the expense of our neighbors and our fellow inhabitants on this island in space. We need strong leaders who can inspire us to bring out the best in each other. We need the willingness and courage to look beyond short term personal gain and, instead, focus on the long term common good. We need to solve our problems together, not on the backs of those who are least able to defend themselves. We need to stand up for the fundamental human principles set forth so eloquently in our country's founding document.

On this Independence Day, let's resolve to do more than just wave the flag or wear the red, white and blue. Let's spend some time thinking about what our freedom really means and what considerable responsibilities that freedom entails.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Tragedy at Thunder Hole

We’re sure that Acadia National Park has received many comments about yesterday’s tragedy at the Thunder Hole area, and especially about whether or not Park personnel took proper care to safeguard the public.

As one of the thousands who were present at Thunder Hole before, during and after the incident involving the tragic loss of a little seven year old girl, the near loss of several others, and many injuries; we sincerely hope that Park personnel do not take a “bum rap” for what happened. The bottom line in this most unfortunate situation is that you cannot legislate or enforce safe behavior by large numbers of foolishly determined people.

We personally saw Rangers and other Park personnel trying their best to keep people from venturing too far out onto the rock ledges when powerful and increasingly large waves were coming onshore. We saw people move back at Rangers’ requests, and then go right out on the ledges again after the Ranger moved 25 or 50 feet away. We heard people cheer when spray and actual green seawater swirled on or around them. They had no clue about the risk. They also had no interest in being warned by a Ranger, much less by one of the many other ANP employees who were present and did not wear a Ranger uniform or carry a gun. Some people can be incredibly stupid, and we saw a lot of that stupidity yesterday at Thunder Hole.

The big debate is and will be – should the Park have anticipated this and just closed Ocean Drive early on Sunday morning, long before high tide. Our vote is “NO”.

Ocean Drive is one of America’s treasures – a very beautiful but also very dangerous area. The American people should be allowed easy access to this wonderful place that we all own. At the same time, each of us needs to use common sense and take reasonable care to protect ourselves and our loved ones wherever we may be – particularly in natural areas when the forces of nature are on full display. We have always admired the Park for not placing fences or barriers or obtrusive signs in places like Otter Cliffs where a number of people have been killed over the years. People need to take responsibility for their own actions, and that is a concept that has become increasingly foreign in recent years.

Our only real concern about the way in which this incident was handled is that the size of the crowd and congestion on the Loop Road yesterday significantly hindered the Rangers and rescue vehicles from responding to the emergency at Thunder Hole. There is no easy answer to this problem, but when the large number of cars began to approach the point of completely blocking all lanes of Ocean Drive, a situation that was apparent well before the tragic incident, perhaps a Ranger in the Thunder Hole area should have asked the entrance station to temporarily stop allowing more vehicles to enter so that emergency access could be maintained. This has been done from time to time in the past when crowds on Cadillac Mountain became so large that there were no more places to park. Rangers at the bottom have stopped more cars from going up until some came down to prevent gridlock.

In our view, it would be unfair to criticize Acadia National Park for not doing more to avoid this terrible incident. We were there, and overall we feel that the Park and all of its personnel did a very good job on Sunday under very difficult circumstances. The problem was people, and as we said earlier, you cannot enforce good judgment!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Season

We are almost embarrassed that it has been so long since our last post; but as we said at the time, issues on Mount Desert Island and elsewhere have been largely overshadowed by national economic events. That doesn’t mean there has been nothing going on around here. We have seen the occasional “dust up” over a few local regulations and other matters, but little has happened of island-wide import. Taking a longer term perspective however, there are some subtle shifts occurring in island life about which we all should be concerned.

In just a couple of weeks the time of year locally known as “the season” will begin. “The season” refers to that period between July 4th and Labor Day when most of our summer residents occupy their homes, and when the events calendar swells to overflowing. “The season” for many of these longtime residents has always remained a constant in their lives, and it has been eagerly anticipated as a welcome respite from day to day business and social interests, as a time for relaxation and enjoyment of nature’s beauty and bounty, and as a time for extended families and friends to gather in a quiet, relaxed setting – often for the only time each year.

Year-round families also enjoy and look forward to “the season”, but in a different way. Most of them work long hours during the summer months, although they still entertain family and friends and look for opportunities to savor these wonderful days that seem to pass all too quickly.

But in the words of Bob Dylan – “the times they are a-changin”! Increasingly, “the season” is not what it used to be.

For one thing, families from all economic strata don’t place the same value on just being together that they used to in years past. Various generations often see things very differently today. They have different priorities and sometimes vastly different lifestyles. The closeness that was so much a part of extended families 50 years ago, all too often no longer exists.

For another thing, society has changed. There used to be relatively little social competition among wealthy summer residents. They lived rather elegant lives to be sure, but they usually saw summers on Mount Desert as a time to “rusticate” and to be with their friends in a more low-key fashion than was possible in the cities where they spent most of the year. Today, there seems to be much greater competition to build the biggest, most extravagant house on the boldest, most dramatic ocean cliff; to be seen at a party with the most prominent national and international figures; to have the most well-known house guests; or to have at one’s disposal the largest private jet and the most expensive yacht.

Perhaps the main reason behind these changes is the fast, intense and highly competitive pace of life today compared to 30 or 40 years ago. No one seems to have the time to do everything they feel they need to do, and finding time to relax is something that frequently is neglected. Also, many people today do not respect tradition the way they used to. The current generation appears to be much more self absorbed, much more materialistic, much more interested in being first, and much less inclined to learn from their parents and grandparents.

Of course, exceptions certainly can be found; and it is possible that we unfairly exaggerate the potentially negative aspects of modern life. Still, there is little doubt that the idyllic, idealistic summer days of the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s are very much in the past. All of us are poorer as a result.