Eco-Tourists Take Note: Earth Day Is A Lot Older Than 40 On Mount Desert Island In Maine

The author taking the long view atop Cadillac Mountain

If you are an ethical traveler, do you only go to Borneo or Belize?  Why not Bar Harbor? 

I was thinking about this as we celebrate the 40th birthday of Earth Day and take stock in how far we’ve come in the “modern environmental movement.”   There’s a longer view.

Someone said, “The essence of eco-tourism is deep respect for the place.”  If you go to Acadia National Park, you can’t help but be awe-struck by the craggy coastline, pines punctuating a quiet harbor, or a lichen-laden forest.  What should impress the eco-tourist is not only the astounding natural beauty – which drew rusticators way back in the mid-1800s – but also the harmony of sometimes opposing forces.  There’s a working lobster trade that balances natural abundance with commercialism.  In fact, even the tourism trades (such as the rock climbing and kayaking outfitters) operate respecting nature and protecting it. 

This isn’t new.  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. 

Today L.L. Bean continues this tradition.  They support a network of propane-fueled buses to transport hikers, bikers, and sightseers around Acadia National Park, free of charge.  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. 

Acadia National Park has the only fiord in North America.  It has the highest peak on the eastern coast of the U.S.  And there are 23 more mountains on this island!  There are park rangers there who will teach you about peregrines and show you the stars over Sand Beach.  Somehow, it’s a particularly fitting place for Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory, a marine research institution founded in 1898, The Jackson Laboratory, another independent, non-profit organization focusing on mammalian genetics research to advance human health, and the College of the Atlantic, where all students major in Human Ecology, the study of our relationship with our environment. 

Environmentally aware travelers to Acadia National Park have their choice of 130 miles of hiking trails or 57 miles of carriage roads for biking.  If you’d like to find the guides and outfitters who will help you explore Acadia National Park in a respectful way and with as much awe as a first-time visitor, I recommend you contact Acadia Mountain Guides or Maine State Sea Kayak.  Details for both are available at OUR ACADIA, where you will find more information about “our national park on one of the world’s most beautiful islands.”  There are also tips about lodging, restaurants, and local markets for lobster, crabmeat, local cheeses, and organic produce. 

Conde Nast Traveler recently ranked Mount Desert Island among the “Enduring Edens,” twelve islands that remain beautiful, despite their popularity.  Bali and Capri are also on that list, but they are certainly a lot further away.  If you are genuinely concerned about the disastrous impact of air travel on the environment, you might want to opt for Maine instead of Madagascar for your next eco-adventure.  There are even eight ways to get there without a car.

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