This week the Ken Burns’ series, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, on PBS brought the history of our national parks to life by presenting it through the stories of individuals. From John Muir to a childless couple from Lincoln, Nebraska, they told us about the importance of natural beauty in their lives.
My first encounter with Acadia National Park in Maine was on a carriage-driving trip. A New York City executive, I was in the midst of a divorce, when my sister, an independent-minded horsewoman from New Hampshire, invited me to join her and some other women in Maine. They loaded their carriages and horses into trailers and a bag or two into their pick-up trucks, and off we went.
John D. Rockefeller, Jr. would have applauded such an introduction to Acadia. Between 1913 and 1940 he developed a system of roads and bridges that traversed meadows and brooks and encircled mountains. It was his vision that Acadia National Park should be seen behind a horse. Today, the 57 miles of carriage roads he constructed are used by cyclists and hikers, as well as carriage drivers.
While the New Hampshire ladies drove their carriages and groomed their ponies, I hiked around Jordan Pond. We convened to have lemonade and popovers on a lawn that has hosted tea for visitors since 1896. In the evenings we dined together at our host’s cottage on Southwest Harbor and congregated at the best local lobster pounds.
Here I found the unique place where the mountains meet the sea.
Acadia National Park, located on Mount Desert Island, has 24 mountains, the highest mountain on the eastern seaboard, the only fiord in North America, glacial lakes, boreal forests, and 130 miles of hiking trails to see all of it.
I was smitten. It was time to go home, but an irrational passion for the place had overtaken me.
George Dorr first went to Mount Desert Island in 1868. Educated in Europe, he traveled extensively there, but chose to reside on Mount Desert Island. Although he had inherited an extraordinary fortune, he spent his time hiking, biking, swimming and building trails. When he died at age 94, he had spent his entire fortune purchasing land for Acadia National Park.
When I got back into my NYC routine, I still wanted to talk about the peregrines nesting on the Precipice. People at work wanted to talk about Alex Rodriguez. I was thinking about hiking the Western Mountains vs. Penobscot Mountain. They were thinking about Gossip Girl vs. NYC Prep.
So, I started blogging. When is the best time to visit Acadia National Park? Where should you go sea kayaking? Which hikes are best for kids? I pulled it together in a Web site about OUR ACADIA – our national park on one of the world’s most beautiful islands.
This is the power of the places that have been preserved by the National Park System.
Yet even within this exclusive set, Acadia National Park is unique because it is the only national park in which most of the land was privately purchased and then donated to a land trust that became the park. That, in particular, tells the story of how Mount Desert Island has captivated people, who then preserved it as a national park for us all.
I need to pay bills. There’s a report I should look at. My daughter needs me to help her with her new laptop. And I’m thinking that my next post will be about LEAVE NO TRACE and other tips for hiking in Acadia National Park.