Friday, December 12, 2008


The major issues with which residents of Mount Desert Island have been concerned for several years have not gone away. Resource conservation, maintenance of a viable year-round population, balancing the role of tourism in our local economy, reducing the duplication of municipal services, dealing with summer traffic congestion – all of these things and more remain on our plate. But it seems to us that discussion of them has moderated in a significant way over recent months, with such matters taking a back seat to other more immediate global concerns.

Without a doubt the United States, along with most other developed countries, is currently experiencing the greatest financial crisis of our time. And the worldwide economic meltdown has widespread negative implications for our national, state and local governments, for our businesses, for our charitable institutions, and for all of us as individuals. But just exactly what the effects will ultimately be is unknown, leading to much worry and uncertainty about the future.

How will our federal government handle trillion dollar annual budget deficits? How will Maine handle decreasing amounts of federal funds available to the states? How will our municipalities handle corresponding reductions in state financial support for localities? What will a poor economy do to our tourism industry? How can we protect critical funding for Acadia National Park? Will our residents be able to get or keep good jobs?

All of these questions cry out for answers, and the uncertainty surrounding them has, at least for the moment, drowned out discussion of more familiar island issues.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Ah, For the Good Old Days...

Now how, you might ask, does this topic specifically relate to issues facing Mount Desert Island?

Well, certainly it is a wistful lament that resonates with a growing number of people around the entire country today. (Anyone for $.25 gasoline?) But it also reflects a recollection of, a respect for, and a desire to preserve things from the past that have been and continue to be very central to the lives of most residents of our island.

Perhaps more than in a lot of other communities, people living on Mount Desert Island have always had a sense of their local history and traditions. That is definitely true of native families, though it might be slightly less a factor in the lives of many who have moved here "from away". Those who were born and grew up here are a part of local history, and they remember with great fondness the relative simplicity and beauty of life on a Maine island, especially during the summers. To be sure, there were hardships as well, but there also is a certain pride among those who dealt with and overcame those hardships, often using the strength found in local community values and institutions. Over the years, more than a few of the families who moved here did so at least in part because of their perception of MDI’s rich local history and its abiding sense of community.

So herein lies our issue. Mount Desert Island has been insulated to some degree from the changes that have affected life so dramatically in the rest the United States, particularly its urban areas. But change is overtaking us more and more rapidly. The fast pace of the Information Age is upon us; more new residents come to the island each year seeking a haven of one sort or another and having little prior knowledge of the community into which they are moving; and many of our village elders around the island are gradually passing away, depriving us both of their wisdom and their direct link to the past.

As a result, we are in serious danger of losing our sense of local history along with the local relationships that have been so important to the quality of life here over the years. We have already lost the local sewing circles, all but one of the community associations, most of the grange halls, most of our ladies’ aid societies, and many of our smaller churches. We find it increasingly difficult to recruit members for our volunteer fire departments and for our local town boards and committees. We live our lives on the Internet and on cable TV instead of interacting with our neighbors.

We cannot turn back the clock, nor would most of us really want to, but we do need to find a way to preserve the essence of the island institutions that have made MDI such a special place. As a start, we need to constantly encourage a broad-based understanding of our local history and traditions, so that everyone living here today can fully appreciate the value of those institutions.

Ah, for the good old days...

Saturday, June 7, 2008


Well, here we go into a subject that has the potential to offend someone, even if that result is unintended. The subject is both the positive and negative impact of an increasing number of retirees who have chosen and are choosing Mount Desert Island as a place to live during their "golden years".

In many ways, this trend has very positive implications for the island. Folks who retire here are generally well educated and often bring very interesting career experiences into the community. They build or purchase and maintain nice homes, they usually do not have children in the local school system thus requiring fewer municipal services, they tend to be financially secure, and they are a great source of enthusiastic volunteers for many local non-profit organizations. They actively support artistic and educational programs around the area.

But despite all of these positives, there are a few negatives that need to be recognized and addressed. Prosperous retirees from urban areas where home prices and incomes tend to be relatively high are able to bid more aggressively for increasingly scarce property on Mount Desert Island than most locals can afford. This drives up real estate prices here and forces children of local families off island or even out of state to find affordable housing.

Retirees usually place a high value on education and are willing to support local school budgets, even if they do not have children attending those schools. But there is an increasing risk that their support may fade as property taxes rise and as school budgets comprise a larger and larger portion of those taxes. Further, as increasing numbers of retirees replace young families in a community, there are fewer and fewer children attending local schools. This leads to vacant classroom space, inefficient allocation of human resources, and eventual calls for consolidation.

Also, retirees tend to travel frequently - particularly during our long winters. Some actually have second homes elsewhere in places like Florida where they will spend several months each year. This means that there are more empty houses and there is less activity on the island during the winter than might be the case in more economically and socially diverse communities. Coupled with an already large number of seasonal homes on MDI, there is the potential for entire villages to appear shut down for a considerable portion of the year.

And finally, retirees frequently do not know much of the social history or traditions of the island community into which they are relocating. The tendency, therefore, is to bring traditions and procedures from their former lives into the local organizations they join, sometimes causing island natives to feel inferior, pushed out or misunderstood.

So, what to do? How do we embrace the positives while minimizing the negatives? Here is your chance to comment and to offer’s easy, just log on and post!

Saturday, May 17, 2008


As we rapidly approach a new season, we are reminded that folks here on Mount Desert Island often seem to have a love/hate relationship with tourists. We can’t wait for them to leave in the fall, and we can’t wait for them to arrive again in the spring.

We hate being forced to drive slowly behind them during the summer; we hate not being able to find a parking spot in Bar Harbor; we hate the crowds on some trails, along Ocean Drive and in the grocery stores; we worry about the damage they might cause to our fragile ecology; we ridicule the t-shirt shops that also sell red, flocked lobsters on a string; we complain about late-night noise in our villages; and we wonder how to accommodate unexpected visits from long-lost friends and acquaintances.

But we love the boost tourists give to our economy; we love the summer employment opportunities for our high school and college students; we love the number and variety of great restaurants available to us during "the season"; we love the world class music programs and live theater; we love the opportunity to reunite with friends and family; we enjoy seeing some of the world’s most famous cruise ships anchored in Bar Harbor; we are excited to join a whale watch; and we thrive on all the activity of the summer months after a long, cold winter.

The fact is that tourism indeed can be a double edged sword. However, if properly managed and controlled, we can continue to enjoy all of its aspects that we love while minimizing those that we hate. Tourism has been a central part of MDI for the past 100 years and likely will be for the next 100 years. All of us who care about, live in and earn a living from this special place need to constantly work together in a spirit of cooperation and understanding to ensure that tourism is a positive force, not a negative one.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Sharing Services

At a recent League of Towns meeting, the Bar Harbor Town Manager initiated what turned out to be a brief discussion of the idea that island towns might possibly share tax assessing duties to save money. While there was mild interest from some towns, others showed no interest at all, so the idea was shelved with no further action planned.

This is not the first time that sharing certain services among island towns has been brought up, and it also is not the first time that such proposals have been quickly dismissed for lack of interest. That is most unfortunate, because there is great duplication of municipal services in this relatively small geographical area, and local taxpayers are footing the bill. At some point, cost pressures and financial reality will force more consolidation and more efficiency in providing such services to what, by almost anyone’s measure, is one contiguous island community having widespread common interests.