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!