Archive for June, 2009

June 17, 2009

A Red, White, and Blue Holiday in Maine…Goes Green

Bar Harbor ParadeI crave an old-fashioned Fourth of July.

A pancake breakfast sponsored by the Rotary. A parade with lots of flags. A concert on the Village Green. Fireworks on a waterfront.

And that’s exactly what I am going to get because I’m going to spend this Fourth of July in Bar Harbor, Maine.

Chris Fogg, Executive Director of the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce, says, “We have a very traditional celebration Blueberry muffinsthat hits everything Maine is known for.” That means, of course, that there will be lots of blueberries and lobster. To benefit the YMCA scholarship program, local businesses will be racing lobsters in a “crustacean contest.” There will be a crafts fair featuring quilts, photographs, and porcelain dolls. And a highlight is the Seafood Festival in the local ballpark with a menu of lobster, mussels, corn, and strawberry shortcake.

There’s one new tradition that may surprise you, though. The town goes to extraordinary lengths to make the celebration as green as, well, a forest in Maine.

For the last three years the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce has been partnering with the MDI Rotary Club and College of the Atlantic in some interesting ways to make the Fourth of July Celebration more eco-friendly. The Blueberry Pancake Breakfast and Seafood Festival use materials, including napkins and eating utensils, which are recyclable and compostable. The “silverware” is made out of potatoes – another great product of Maine. With all of the shopping that goes on in this charming village, the Chamber of Commerce also sells shopping bags recycled from plastic bottles.

Although these measures are special for the holiday, they are not unusual for MDI. For example, L.L. Bean supports a network of propane-fueled buses to transport hikers, bikers, and sightseers around Acadia National Park, which occupies about two-thirds of the island. Called the Island Explorer, this system has carried over 2 million passengers, reduced smog-causing pollutants by more than 11 tons, and prevented the release of over 7,300 tons of greenhouse gases. And it’s free.

In fact, the island has a long history of eco-tourism. In the 1920s John D. Rockefeller, Jr. feared the impact of automobiles on Mount Desert Island. Collaborating with Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., the son of the designer of Central Park in New York, he helped develop the 27-mile Park Loop Road, a stunning roadway encircling Mount Desert Island and presenting breathtaking views to motorists – while protecting the island’s forests and wildlife.

So, if the wholesome holiday and eco-commitment haven’t convinced you where you want to spend America’s holiday, perhaps the outdoor agenda will. For an affordable family vacation in Maine, Acadia National Park offers 130 miles of hiking trails and 57 miles of car-free carriage roads for biking. From whale watching to oceanariums, there are lots of things to do with kids in Acadia.

For more information about Bar Harbor’s Fourth of July celebration, check out the Events calendar at   OUR ACADIA offers candid reviews on restaurants, rentals, and boat trips.

June 15, 2009

How to Choose a Sea Kayaking Tour to Explore the Scenic Waterways around Acadia National Park

Approaching the Porcupine Islands off Bar Harbor

Approaching the Porcupine Islands off Bar Harbor

If you visit Acadia National Park, you have to see it from the water. 

You can take sailing trips, scenic nature cruises, and go whale watching.  But I most enjoy being close to the water and motoring under my own power in a kayak. 

The bays and straits around Mount Desert Island, of which the park occupies about two-thirds, offer the chance to see harbor seals, porpoises, eagles, and osprey.  Seeing the rocky, tree-lined coast from the vantage point of the ocean is special unto itself.  Kayaking tours not only make the experience safe and convenient, but open up your eyes to many of the subtleties of different eco-systems. Novices get lessons and a little practice before the group takes off.  Of course, all of the gear is included, and most companies offer trips of different durations. 

On the first trip I ever took a man who had kayaked with his family the day before was back alone for a sunset paddle.  That’s how impressive the experience was… 

So, how do you select a kayaking tour?

On Mount Desert Island the primary criterion is location: do you want to kayak in Frenchman Bay off of Bar Harbor or along the island’s western coastline known as the “Quiet Side”? 

Sea Kayaking Western Bay

Sea Kayaking Western Bay

This was the subject of a lively debate recently on TripAdvisor’s Maine forum.  Since I’ve kayaked in both locations myself, I’ll try to sort out the “pro’s” and “con’s” for you, but you should check out the string of posts for recommendations of several different sea kayaking companies. 

Fans of Frenchman Bay like the proximity to their lodging and touring around the Porcupine Islands, a cluster of four small, but dramatic islands.  Detractors cite the water traffic.  Kayaking tours in Bar Harbor such as Aquaterra Adventures leave directly from the dock, which is something folks also like; other guides such as Coastal Kayaking take guests along with all of the gear in vans and leave from the shoreline. 

Kayaking Jordan Pond (Bubbles in Background)

Kayaking Jordan Pond (Bubbles in Background)

That’s also the case with Maine State Kayaking Tours, which operates out of Southwest Harbor.  They paddle in the area of Western Bay.  Their fans talk about the serenity and beauty of these trips, especially those at sunset. 

I share my take on two different tours on both sides of the island at OUR ACADIA under reviews of Aquaterra and Maine State Sea Kayak.  There’s also information there about renting kayaks to explore Acadia’s glacial lakes. 

Regardless of which kayaking tour or venue you choose for your first trip, it will only give your perspective on what’s so great – and different – about your second!

The author proudly poses with her kayak in front of  Great Long Pond.  She enjoys kayaking on the ocean, as well kayak lynnas MDI’s lakes and Somes Sound.  The agenda of a favorite day in Acadia is to hike up Beech Mountain in the morning, picnic, then kayak on Long Pond.  For more ideas on how to explore the waterways, trails, restaurants, and markets of Mount Desert Island, visit OUR ACADIA.

June 8, 2009

A Top Pick for Your Maine Vacation: See Scenic Acadia National Park in a Horse-Drawn Carriage

Things to do in Acadia National Park include biking, hiking, and kayaking.  My daughter would definitely put rock climbing on her list, and I think you have to eat at a nearby lobster pound. But one of the top-ranking activities among a very broad group of travelers is a carriage tour. 

Why?  Perhaps it’s because that’s the way the carriage roads of Acadia National Park were meant to be experienced.  These unique gravel byways were constructed by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. as a means to get deep into Mount Desert Island and to keep cars out.  Mr. Rockefeller, himself a skilled horseman, drove a carriage along these scenic roads that encircle mountains, pass over stone-faced bridges, and skirt meadows. 

Today some 20,000 visitors travel the same historic roads on tours offered by Wildwood Stables. 

Wildwood Stables

Wildwood Stables

This year tours will start June 6 and run to October 18.  They feature the horse-drawn “Acadia Sociable” wagonette which holds 12 to 16 people.  There are four different tours, available for one- or two-hour drives throughout the day.  Although they all book quickly, the most popular are the morning drive on Pemetic Mountain to “Cobblestone Bridge” and the sunset trip to Day Mountain.  Wildwood’s new manager, Mike Carpenter, is considering additional routes for 2009, including one that’s a circuit from Jordan Pond House, the scenic spot for lemonade and popovers. 

The “five-star” popularity of the carriage tours seems to result as much from the charm of the carriage drivers as the scenery.  Visitors rave about the information, history, and humorous anecdotes.  Scan TripAdvisor and you’ll see “I hated it to end” and “I would definitely do it again.” 

One reason to book again, even if you’ve enjoyed a carriage drive before, will be the new emphasis on the horses themselves.  Wildwood’s new manager hopes to have at least one representative of the six or seven major breeds of draft horses at the stable.  Having grown up with horses on a farm, he believes that giving visitors more interaction with the animal power – even letting them touch the horses – will enhance the experience of a visit to Wildwood. 

And if you’re planning a romantic vacation on Mount Desert Island, consider a special charter in a surrey or vis-a-vis “wedding carriage” like the ones in Central Park.  According to Mr. Carpenter, that’s one thing both newlyweds and couples celebrating anniversaries put on their lists of things to do in Acadia National Park. 

Want to include a carriage drive on your trip to Acadia National Park?  Visit Carriages of Acadia to find out more.  Reservations can be made by calling 1-877-276-3622.

Visit OUR ACADIA for tips on rentals, restaurants, and the best times to visit Acadia National Park.  It includes things to do with kids and options for rainy days.