Swiss Cheese Park
Acadia hopes new signs earn some payback.
Acadia National Park has always had an unusual problem - it has too many entrances. Thirty-three, to be exact, and only one of them has an entrance station where fees are collected. Park officials estimate barely 60 percent of the 2.2-million visitors who used the park last year actually paid the entrance fee, but they're hoping some new signs will help.
"Acadia is a swiss cheese park," explains Kevin Langley, the fee program manager. "There are over a dozen entrances on the west side alone." Now the park has put up signs at all the unguarded entrances notifying travelers that they are entering a "Fee Area" in hopes that visitors will willingly buy park passes, or at least not be surprised when they arrive at the entrance station on the Park Loop Road near Sand Beach. "We've heard from the [park personnel] there that some people were complaining because they didn't know they had to pay to enter the park," Langley says. Passes are also available at the park information centers in downtown Bar Harbor, on Thompson Island, and in Hulls Cove.
Trying to close off roads or build new fee stations would be cumbersome and prohibitively expensive, says Langley. "Besides, we're not interested in causing major traffic back-ups," he notes. By some estimates, half of all the tourists who visit Maine each year pass through Acadia.
The new signs come as visitor numbers at the park have started moving up, ending a decade-long decline. Last year's 2.2 million visitors represented a 5.7 percent increase over 2006. Acadia's Charlie Jacobi says the totals are derived from a complex formula based on the number of cars that trip a traffic counter at Sand Beach. "With so many ways in and out of the park, it's impossible to get an accurate count," Jacobi admits. "But we've used this method since 1990, and it gives us a decent idea of the traffic and the trends at work."
Langley says he has met families who had been in the park for two or three days and never paid an entrance fee. "Certainly our hope is that the signs will increase compliance," he notes. Last year the park collected close to three million dollars in entrance fees, 80 percent of which stayed in the park's coffers. After years of budget cuts at the national level, the park can use all the help it can get from those who appreciate it the most.
Maine's island trail set the standard.
By most counts the Maine coast has somewhere on the order of five thousand offshore islands - a paradise for kayakers, sailors, and anyone with a seaworthy ship. Faced with the problem of trying to figure out which of these islands they'd be welcome at, Dave Getchell, Sr., and a group of other boating enthusiasts at the Island Institute in Rockland hit upon the idea of a "water trail" that people could follow from island to island.
That was twenty years ago, and what began as a floating breadcrumb trail between thirty-eight state-owned islands has since matured into a network of 162 public and private outcroppings that has served as a model for the five hundred other water trails nationwide since 1988. Managed by the Maine Island Trail Association (www.mita.org
) in Portland, the 350-mile coastal trail stretches from Cape Porpoise in Kennebunkport to Machias Bay. Island Trail members pay forty-five dollars a year to receive the association's guidebook outlining the details of each island and explaining the group's strict leave-no-trace ethic. Doug Welch, the association's executive director, says adherence to that philosophy has been directly responsible for the trail's growth, as private owners and land trusts have discovered the benefits of having their property included on the trail. "The deal is that if they will list it on the trail, they will find [their property] in better condition than if it was not on the trail," Welch remarks. "We do island cleanups in spring and fall, and we have thirty monitor skippers who use eighteen-foot open skiffs to patrol the coast."
Welch admits that some non-association members sometimes obtain the group's guidebook at yard sales and visit the islands without paying their dues, but he says instilling responsible ethics is the association's ultimate goal. "There are no guns or badges on the water, and we are reluctant to ask anyone if they're a member," he says. "We're really about creating a constituency of island visitors who are knowledgeable about leave-no-trace principles and are willing to spread that outlook."
Apparently that's a philosophy that hasn't gone out of style, even after two decades. Welch says in the past year he's consulted with trail organizers in Florida and the Chesapeake Bay, as paddlers and sailors look to Maine for guidance. "In terms of balancing access and stewardship, we are still the model," he says.VAINME1
Towns and cities compete for the title of the vainest place in Maine.
It seems like every time you pull up to a red light or a stop sign these days, there is a tiny piece of automotive poetry for your pleasure on the car in front of you. In Maine approximately 107,000 drivers have personalized license plates. That's 6 percent above the national average, landing Maine sixth in the nation for percentage of so-called vanity plates. Whether it's a patriotic BOSOX04 or an egotistic GT2BME, a vanity plate intentionally makes a statement about its driver, but does it say something more?
Garry Hinkley, the director of the Division of Vehicle Services of the Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles, has been reviewing submissions for vanity plates in Maine for years. "We don't really pay too much attention," he notes, in regard to the type of request that comes across his desk. "There are lots of sports related plates. A lot of Disney ones, too. Then there are a lot of hobbies and some political and philosophical ones." Hinkley could not offer any informal correlation between plate and personality, nor could he offer an explanation as to why the state of Maine ranks so high nationally.
We used data from the 2000 census and the Secretary of State's office to calculate the towns and cities in the state with the most vanity plates per person. Topping the list of Maine's twenty-two cities is Ellsworth, followed by Calais, Saco, Rockland, and Caribou. Barbara Ameen, the deputy tax collector in charge of car registrations in Ellsworth, attributes the ample amount of vanities to the diverse population there. "A lot of Ellsworth is businesses and professionals, and it's actually a rather eclectic community." At a loss for additional reasons, Ameen, says "it is a rather interesting statistic."
Waterville can claim to be Maine's least vain city, with Belfast, Presque Isle, and Eastport similarly humble, at least on the road.
So plate-wise, which municipality ranks as Maine's vainest? The Forks: population thirty-five, total vanity plates, fifteen, was the clear winner.
If these statistics inspire you to add some haiku to your Honda, you'll have to be pretty creative, as the Maine law changed three or four years ago and no longer allows duplicates, even in different classes of vehicles ("personal identification reasons," explains Hinkley). Plus, you'll have to keep it PG. Hinkley has a "bleep" list of combinations that are prohibited. So SKINUDE is out, but ME4LIFE is just fine.Samuel Pennington, RIP
Maine loses an antiques lover and muckraker.
For many folks in the antiques business, time is measured in two ways - before Sam Pennington and after Sam Pennington. The founder, editor, publisher, and general muckraker of the Maine Antique Digest, who died February 2 at seventy-eight, used his monthly newspaper to shine a very bright spotlight on the clubby, insular world of antiques dealing and auctions, and by doing so he changed the business permanently.
Samuel Charles Pennington III and his wife, Sally, who survives him, founded the Digest in 1973 on the kitchen table of the Waldoboro home they bought after Sam retired from the air force. In the late 1960s they had owned a small antiques shop while he was stationed at the now-closed Dow Air Force Base in Bangor, and the Digest was in part a response to their frustration at the lack of information about prices and other aspects of the close-mouthed industry.
It was Pennington who first started reporting the prices paid at auctions. Now a standard practice in the industry, at the time it incurred both wrath and admiration among antiques dealers and the public. He aggressively pursued expos`s about antiques fraud, and it was Pennington himself who met a shadowy figure on a dark road one night to recover a valuable stolen weathervane. The Digest grew from the twenty-eight pages of the first issue to three hundred pages, with a circulation of more than twenty thousand and a reputation as one of the best guides to Americana, folk art, and New England antiques.
In 1978, dissatisfied with the lack of news coverage in the Waldoboro area, Pennington started a newspaper, the Waldoboro Weekly, which earned a reputation for quality journalism if not profit. The paper closed three years later.
Pennington remained at the helm of the Digest until just a few months before his death. The monthly will continue under the guidance of Sally and two of their five children. The antiques world will never be the same.Farm Matchmaker
Sometimes the best farmland is someone else's.
Esther Lacognata knows of 144 people in Maine who want to farm but don't have the land. She also knows of 129 people who have the land but don't want to farm. They are all part of the Maine Farmland Trust's FarmLink program, which pairs prospective farmers with landowners who are willing to sell or lease land for agricultural uses.
"We've made thirty links since 2002," says Lacognata, the program's coordinator. "The whole thrust is to keep productive land in farming." The program began in the 1990s "inside Russell Libby's head," she says, referring to the longtime executive director of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. "People would tell him they wanted land and someone else would tell him they had land available and he would pair them up."
The trust took over the program five years ago, and Lacognata has noticed some changes in the years since. "Our seekers used to be organic, back-to-the-land earthy types," she explains. "Now I'll bet half of them are experienced farmers, some of them out-of-state farmers who have been pushed off their land by development."
The near-equal numbers of land seekers and landowners hide some dramatic disparities. "In Androscoggin County, we have fifty-five people looking and only two farms," she points out. "In Cumberland County we have twenty landowners enrolled and sixty-six people looking."
Interest in the program has increased to the point that the trust is hiring part-time regional agents to help recruit and match up more participants and work with county Extension Service offices. The process isn't all fresh lettuce and ripe strawberries, Lacognata adds. "There's a lot of looking, a lot of tire kicking," she says. But the successes more than make up for the false starts, as any gardener knows.Eyes in the Sky
Lincoln's residents face a local Candid Camera - four in fact.
In the old days, the neighbors spied on each other out their parlor windows. In Lincoln they'll soon be able to do it from their computers.
Sometime this spring four closed-circuit television cameras will be installed on Lincoln's Main Street. The cameras will not only be hooked into the local police station, but also to the town's Web site, allowing anyone with Internet access to see what's doing in the Penobscot County mill town.
The city council began discussing the Lincoln version of Candid Camera last summer. A security company approached the city with the proposal after an outbreak of vandalism and petty crime along Main Street. Then in January it approved a contract with Motorbrain, a local information technology firm that is donating two cameras, a server, and a service contract.
Police Chief Bill Flagg says the cameras are more than a law-enforcement tool. "Lincoln has been active in promoting the community, and we're proud of the downtown area," he notes, so the cameras put the town on display for prospective business owners and residents. "Plus, we have a number of former residents who live around the country who would like to stay in touch by checking the cameras on occasion."
Flagg says the lenses will be positioned to avoid looking in windows or private yards. He won't say if they have night-vision capability.
Flagg says the town will evaluate the experience with the four cameras before deciding whether to install more. His department doesn't have the resources to monitor the camera feeds constantly, but "everything will be recorded and can be pulled up quickly if we have to check something," he says.
Closed-circuit television cameras aren't common in small-town Maine, especially in the organized fashion that Lincoln is adopting. Flagg emphasizes that the intent "is not to spy on anyone," but he admits that he's fielded some skeptical comments from residents who don't care for the eyes in the sky. Mainers have a long tradition of respecting each other's privacy, even in public. Then again, maybe knowing that Cousin Frank in Dallas might be watching you park on Main Street will improve your driving.Crank It Up
Bucksport looks at making its own electricity.
Back in the early part of the twentieth century, many towns and cities in Maine operated their own municipal power companies. Most of those systems closed or were absorbed by larger companies as regional power grids were created. Now Bucksport is looking to that past for its future. The town at the mouth of the Penobscot River has started a yearlong investigation of plans to generate its own electricity.
"We're seeing the cost of energy going up significantly," explains Town Manager Roger Raymond. "If we have the resources that would let us generate power for our residents cheaper than commercial sources, we'd be foolish not to explore them. Secondly, if those sources are cleaner than commercial power sources, we have a responsibility to at least look at them."
Raymond paints an image of a town with an embarrassment of power possibilities. The proposal first came up when several town councilors who work at the local Verso Paper mill pointed out that the mill produces a large amount of low-pressure steam that is mostly wasted. Then someone else noted that the town owns land along the top of the ridge above the river that could be ideal for a wind power installation. "Saco is looking at wind power," Raymond says, "and our wind resource might be better than theirs."
Raymond is also watching the tidal power experiments now being conducted in Eastport and Castine. "The town owns a site on the river that has the potential for tidal power," he says. A natural gas pipeline also passes through town, which raises the possibility of building a gas-fired generating station.
"If you look at communities like Madison [which has its own electric co-operative], they're able to provide power at much lower cost than the large companies," Raymond reasons. The town has already opened talks with Verso, and Raymond is researching other power potentials. "Over the next year we want to identify consultants who can help us see if this is practical," he says. If everything works out, "power to the people" might be Bucksport's new motto.The Last Whistle Stop
Another railroad fades into history.
Back in the 1950s and 1960s, when the Belfast and Moosehead Lake (B&ML) Railroad was a commercial railroad operation, the highlight of each summer in Belfast was the annual rail tour for the public. The train company - in which the city of Belfast was the majority stockholder - would bring out all its passenger cars and anything else that could carry eager passengers and make the run into the Waldo County countryside and back again, with a stop along the way at Thorndike Station. The yearly trips continued even after the train stopped carrying passengers in March 1960.
Thorndike Station - after being dismantled and moved - is currently part of the Boothbay Railway Museum, and now it appears the B&ML, built in 1867, will become part of history as well. In early February the line's latest owner, the Belfast and Moosehead Lake Railroad Preservation Society, announced that it was ceasing operations, returning the tracks between Burnham Junction and Belfast to state management and putting its rolling stock up for sale.
The decision follows decades of struggle to find success as a tourist-train operation after the line ceased commercial operations in the early 1980s. The preservation society took over ownership in 2005, but president Robert Lamontagne says the B&ML never took in enough money to support itself. "[T]here was always great sentimental interest in the train from the public, but not enough financial support to enable the organization to simply break even," the society said in a prepared statement. "Its dependence on grants and memberships was simply not a sustainable financial plan."
Unity businessman and philanthropist Bert G. Clifford bought the line in the mid-1990s and kept it running until his death in 2001. The society says it has sought a new owner ever since, without success. Barring a small miracle, it appears the Belfast and Moosehead Lake Railroad has made its last stop.
Legacy of Art
Could a Portland building bring two siblings back together?
Anyone with children can relate to the experience of watching those youngsters grow up and, inevitably, go their separate ways. Sometimes, though, those paths intersect later in life, which is precisely what seems to have happened earlier this year when the Portland Museum of Art (PMA) purchased a portion of the Maine College of Art's campus in downtown Portland. Though both institutions sprang from the same source, the Portland Society of Art, back in 1882, as a way of fulfilling the society's joint mission of exhibiting art and educating artists, they parted ways more than twenty-five years ago. As part of that separation the college retained Clapp House, an 1832 Greek Revival home on Spring Street, with the provision that if it ever vacated the building the house would revert back to the museum.
That day came last winter, when MECA consolidated its downtown offices and classrooms in the former Porteous, Mitchell, & Braun department store on Congress Street and the Baxter Building. The college didn't hand the keys to the Clapp House over to the museum for free, though: the PMA paid a lump sum of $300,000, plus will make two additional payments totaling $120,000. PMA Director Dan O'Leary calls the contribution, which represents about half the Clapp House's market value, a "Solomonic solution" to the college's space needs.
Regardless of the price, O'Leary says the museum is thrilled to have the four-thousand-square-foot building, which sits beside the McLellan House, back as part of its holdings. "It fits right at one side of our footprint, and could be a wonderful library for us," O'Leary remarks, adding that museum trustees will have the final say over the Clapp House's new role. "John Calvin Stevens redesigned some of the studio spaces, and it's been modestly altered to allow certain twentieth-century uses, but the core of the building, its character, is very intact. It's a very inspiring building."
Might that inspiration lead to more of a partnership between the two artistic siblings? O'Leary is cautious in his response. "This has not become the occasion for pursuing a collaboration [with MECA], but we're always open to that," he remarks.
That sounds like a reunion of which Portland's founding artistic fathers would approve.Breaking Up is Hard
Does Maine need a little time alone?
Late last year the new mayor of South Portland, James Soule, caused a mini-media storm when he suggested at his inauguration that southern Maine would be better off without the rest of the state. He called for York, Cumberland, and Sagadahoc counties to secede from Maine and form their own state. His rebel rousing fit in nicely with periodic outbreaks of secessionist fever in northern Maine and echoed other calls for independence from these United States in Vermont and New Hampshire. Then there's the incipient - very incipient - movement to persuade Mainers to secede. Lately, it seems, everyone wants to break up with everyone else.
"Vermont is my inspiration," says Jennifer Lunden, of Portland, who several years ago tried to spark a movement to separate Maine from the U.S. so it could join Canada or go it alone. The Second Vermont Republic movement, which advocates the Green Mountain State's secession, has held conventions and seminars on the legality of going it alone. Meanwhile New Hampshire has been the target of the Free State Project, a libertarian movement to encourage followers to move to New Hampshire, take over its government, and set up their own nation.
Lunden wrote a lengthy article arguing her cause in the weekly free paper, the Portland Phoenix, and she was surprised
at the people who expressed support for the idea. "That was in 2005, and George W. Bush had just been re-elected, so there was a lot of dissatisfaction," she recalls. But few folks rallied to her separatist cause, and Lunden never saw her symbolic Fort Sumter in Casco Bay. "I hoped it would foment a revolution, but it didn't," she says. "But to this day people still ask me about it."
People like the idea because they see Maine as being a quieter, saner place than much of the rest of the country,
offers Lunden, who has dual U.S.-Canadian citizenship. "I think there's something to be said for living in a small, more intimate country, like we see in Europe," she muses. "And we know it can happen successfully. Look at Czechoslovakia, which split apart, and the countries that formed in the former Soviet Union."
Besides, she notes, if Maine secedes and joins Canada - assuming they'd have us - "we'd finally get the metric system and universal health care and a stronger currency. I mean, look at how antiquated this country is. We don't even have a Loonie!"On the Beach
The slow, cool, emerald breakers cruising clear
Along the sparkling edge of level sand,
Shatters its crystal arch, and far and near
Its broken splendor spills upon the land.
With rush and whisper, siren sweet and soft
Gently salutes the children of the earth,
And catches every sunbeam from aloft,
Flashes it back in summer mood of mirth:
And with its flood of strong refreshment pours
Health and delight along the sounding shores.
Amid its frolic foam and scattered spray
Tossed lightly, like some dreaming lion's mane,
The tired dwellers of the city play.
Forgetful for a while of care and pain,
While peace broods over all, nor does it seem
As if the sleeping lion could awake;
And yet, when past is this sweet summer dream,
What roar of thunder on the coast will break
When winter's tempests rage in sullen wrath,
Death and disaster in their cruel path,
And hurl against the sandy margin gray
Devouring fury, tumult and dismay!
-Celia ThaxterFOUND IN UNCLE HENRY'S
One 22in iridescent shark, outgrown tank, hurting himself, needs new home. Needs at least 200 gal tank, he's in a 110 gal now. Bring big cooler to take him. Kenduskeag, ME
ONE MAINER TO ANOTHER
The Androscoggin, the Kennebec, and the Penobscot flow down to the sea as solemnly as ever, and the numberless inland lakes harbor the loon, and give rest to the angles of geese making south or north according to the season, and the black bears roam over the mountain tops as usual.
If the Zeppelin rides the sky at night, and the aeroplanes set flocks of seagulls flying, the gulls remain the same and the rocks, pines, and thrashing seas never lose their power and their native twang.
Nativeness is built of such primitive things, and whatever is one's nativeness, one holds and never loses no matter how far afield the traveling may be. . . .
And so I say to my native continent of Maine, be patient and forgiving, I will soon put my cheek to your cheek, expecting the welcome of the prodigal, and be glad of it, listening all the while to the slow, rich, solemn music of the Androscoggin, as it flows along.
- Marsden Hartley, On the Subject of Nativeness - A Tribute to Maine