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.