Down East 2013 ©
Photo by Joshua F. Moore
Down East conducted an online survey to hear what our readers thought were Maine’s seven wonders. We provided a list of twenty-five finalists to choose from and allowed write-ins (see the full results here ). So which landmark scored the highest among our readers? Not surprisingly, it was Acadia National Park.
“God had a great day when he created Maine,” wrote Mike Fox, of Anderson, Indiana. Apparently many readers of Down East agree with him. When we asked, “What are the Seven Wonders of Maine?” in our first online survey at DownEast.com, more than two thousand people weighed in (hundreds within the first minutes), proving that readers of the Magazine of Maine know their way around the Internet. They also have impeccable judgment. Perhaps it is no surprise, given its status as the state’s most-visited destination, that nearly all readers nominated Acadia as one of Maine’s most spectacular wonders. But it was also clear that the park’s popularity derives from the deeply personal experiences visitors have had there. Eleanor Brooks of Toms River, New Jersey, told us about the day she chose to elope on Otter Cliffs. Others spoke eloquently about the emotions that driving across the causeway to Mount Desert Island inevitably evokes. “Arriving in Acadia is like coming home from a very long, tiring trip,” explains Krista Chaney of St. George, Vermont. “I always feel an immediate peacefulness within me every time I see those pink granite mountaintops in the distance. Ocean, lake, wilderness, open spaces, mountains, level walking paths — Acadia has it all.” More than a few readers waxed poetic in talking about the island, whether they were discussing sunrises on Cadillac or the changing of the seasons. “As one drives [into Acadia] it would appear that they are entering the heart of a flaming forest, to be quenched by the waters of the ocean,” says Donald O. Collins of New Orleans, Louisiana.
The Mountain of the People of Maine may not be the tallest peak in the Northeast, but it looms large in the minds of Down East readers; Baxter State Park and its signature mountain garnered nearly two thousand votes as one of Maine’s natural wonders. “Standing atop the Baxter Peak cairn is the one memory that continues to delight and amaze me,” reports Tolford “Tod” Young of Granite, Utah. “That memory triggers the others: the drive up from Millinocket; hiking up to Chimney Pond from Roaring Brook with a full pack; climbing to Pamola and rock-hopping across the Knife Edge; venturing out to the very edges of the mountain, then careening down beside the Cathedral trail back to camp. I don’t need pictures in an album. They’re always with me.” We know exactly what he means.
The battle for third place was a squeaker, with just two votes separating the winner, Portland Head Light in Cape Elizabeth, and the runner-up, Penobscot Bay. But it seems fitting that the 217-year-old lighthouse, which was first commissioned by George Washington three decades before Maine became a state, should be at the top of our list of wonders. This coastal sentinel makes for an impressive gateway to Casco Bay whether you experience it by land or from the water — “You can’t miss gliding along the rocks at Portland Head Light in a twenty-knot wind; it’s the greatest experience,” according to Bob Potts of North Yarmouth. The history here at Fort Williams is palpable. “To stand at Portland Head Light, overlooking the ocean and wondering what this world would be like without the bravery of our guardians, is overwhelming,” says Angela M. Loscalzo of Oak Creek, Wisconsin.
If Maine is a yachtsman’s paradise, then Penobscot Bay must be the Garden of Eden. This three hundred-square-mile stretch of water between Bucksport, Whitehead Island, and Isle au Haut represents one of the world’s most pristine cruising grounds, its coves and harbors attracting mariners from around the globe. Luckily for landlubbers the Pine Tree State has its own fleet of windjammers: traditionally rigged sailing ships that take passengers on voyages ranging from a couple of hours to a week. For many people, including Cheri Domina of East Orland, these ships offer a unique window into the wonders of Penobscot Bay. “To sail on a windjammer among the green gems of Penobscot Bay, then spend a night at anchor under a starry canopy in the Fox Islands Thorofare, is to travel back in time two hundred years,” says Domina. “Maine by water offers a wild side of her that most people never get to see.” Whether you are captain of your own ship, a passenger onboard a sightseeing flight above Seal Island and Islesboro (above), or choose to take in the bay from one of the many scenic overlooks along Route 1 and Route 15, this body of water is without a doubt one of Maine’s most wondrous.
For centuries people have speculated that there is something about the Maine coast that is especially conducive to the creative process, and the tiny island of Monhegan certainly lends credence to this theory. Though it encompasses just a square mile of earth, the island, nine miles off Port Clyde, has provided inspiration for scores of acclaimed artists, from Edward Hopper to Rockwell Kent to three generations of Wyeths. On a gorgeous summer day, places like Lighthouse Hill (below) and Blackhead are practically littered with easels, and you have to wonder how many millions of snapshots have been taken from these stunning overlooks. “I couldn’t tell you how many photographs I have of Blackhead on Monhegan Island,” remarks Dave Collins of Fulton, Missouri. “There are lots of megabytes gobbled up there, but they’re well worth it!”
Eight hundred and sixty-four Down East readers voted to include the Allagash Wilderness Waterway among the list of Maine’s most wonderful places — and yet oddly not one person chose to send us an anecdote about this ninety-two-mile-long ribbon of lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams in northern Maine (compare that with the scores of comments we received about seventh-place Pemaquid Point). We believe the Allagash’s ranking on this list is more a credit to what it represents — a last bastion of something that has largely vanished elsewhere east of the Mississippi. “I live in Colorado now, where we have loads of wilderness and public land,” writes Catherine Moore of Fort Collins, Colorado. “These surroundings make me realize how rare the Maine wilderness is compared to the rest of the East. We need to make sure the gems of Maine are recognized.” Fortunately, many others agree with her.
It was somewhat of a surprise to have two lighthouses make it onto the list of Maine’s most spectacular wonders, but the many comments we received about Pemaquid Point Light helped explain precisely what it is that people find so captivating about this diminutive tower on the edge of Muscongus Bay. “If I could spend the rest of my life sitting on the rocks at Pemaquid Point, I would be the happiest person on earth,” reports Norma Halbleib of Victor, New York. “The majesty of this place is simply beyond compare. It grabs a person’s heart as it touches all five senses: the powerful sound of the waves, the taste of the salt air, the feel of the ocean breeze, the smell of the surf, and the sight of a vast ocean stretched out in front of you guarding all its mystery and treasures. This magic place keeps me coming back for more each year.”
According to Down East readers, the Pine Tree State has no shortage of wondrous places.
Asking Down East readers to select only seven wonders of Maine was, in the words of Mike O’Neill of Clay, New York, “like trying to pick the seven shiniest gold coins out of a bag of freshly minted coins.” Others considered the challenge even more of an affront, including Jennifer Field of Mesa, Arizona, who told us: “Trying to choose just seven wonders of Maine is akin to trying to turn a Red Sox fan into a Yankees fan — impossible!” And, of course, there were a number of people who rather emphatically informed us that not only would they not vote, but that we should cease and desist surveys such as this one. “Stop listing these places,” wrote Heather Bernabo of Sedgwick. “Enough people come to them already. Do you really want more people at the top of Katahdin? Do we need more people on Mount Desert? I certainly do not need more cars on the Penobscot Narrows Bridge.” Bernabo ended her note with words likely to make anyone at the Maine Office of Tourism break out in a cold sweat: “Maine is beautiful. Maine is special. Let’s keep it that way. And let’s all of us keep those special places in Maine special because we keep it to ourselves. Think about that.”
Luckily for the rest of us, most readers were more sharing with their favorite spots and in fact offered up some detailed commentary on destinations, both known and less so. Cape Neddick Light in York Beach, known affectionately as the Nubble to the scores who visit it each year, was a clear favorite among the write-ins, with people like Joyce Amend admitting that the lighthouse “played a part in my decision to relocate to Maine and buy a home in York for my retirement years.” Ogunquit’s Marginal Way was also a strong write-in candidate — “I understand that choices have to be limited, but this is one of the most beautiful places on Earth and is worthy of placement on any survey,” reprimanded Jeffrey Grey of Hyde Park, New York — as was Camden Harbor and the view from nearby Mount Battie, with one anonymous reader asking, incredulously: “Did I miss Camden?”
The most delightful surprises came in the nominations for lesser known destinations, places like the reversing falls in Washington County, where Jan Brown of Pembroke tells us: “During the outgoing tide the current is amazingly strong where Cobscook Bay and the Pembroke River are meeting.” The cribstone bridge between Orr’s and Bailey’s Island was another strong contender, as was the Turnpike span over the Piscataqua River. “How can an oxidized span of metal make you feel like a great weight is lifted from your shoulders, that you literally cry when you have to go over it to go south?” asked Luke Hecker of Augusta, Georgia.
A couple of readers wondered why we had not included people like Stephen King in our list — “How could you possibly forget a fellow who grew up in Maine so poor, and turned his life around with a book about a homely teenage girl with special ‘abilities?’ ” queried Chris Kelly of Gunnison, Colorado — and more than a few nominated simply the people of Maine as a statewide wonder. Finally, we couldn’t help but appreciate the anonymous reader who submitted the very last comment before voting closed, stating simply: “Down East is the eighth wonder of Maine.”