We came to bike through the Acadia National Park and left being moved by its beauty and the beauty of the people who preserved its existence.
We loaded our bikes on the front of the bus with the sign “Island Explorer” and made our way inside. Picture Waldo from the old Where’s Waldo books…yep, that was us, goofy tourist in a large and confusing world. “Is this the free shuttle,” I asked, followed by the more important question asked by Tad, “Can we get to the Carriage Roads from this bus?" The patient bus driver answered, "yes and I’ll drop you at Bubble Pond, the closest stop to the roads."
When we ride, Tad always takes the lead and I’m always stopping to take pictures, so we devised a signal of one-ding – I’m stopping, and two-dings, I’m starting again.
History of Acadia
The geologic history of Mt. Desert, the island where Acadia National Park is found, reaches back through millions of years, boasting some of the oldest rock formations in America. Its first known inhabitants, the Wabanakis tribe, spans back over 12,000 years calling the island, Pemetic, “the sloping land.” In the early 1600s, they welcomed French Jesuits and lived harmoniously for a short while until the arrival of the British. There would be strained relations over the next 150 years.
The Revolutionary War brought on further discord as British, French, and Americans fought for ownership. In 1760, Governor Francis Bernard of Massachusetts obtained a royal land grant for Mt. Desert Island. The island later became a part of Maine when Maine separated from Massachusetts in 1820.
The land remained a fishing and hunting haven until the mid-19th century when through their paintings and stories, artists and journalists unveiled the beauty of Mt. Desert to the world.
Tourism quickly ignited and rusticators arrived to the island, followed by wealthy families (known as Cottagers) such as the Rockefellers, Morgans, Fords, Dorrs, Vanderbilts, Carnegies, and Astors. It was the Golden Era, when the privileged escaped their everyday lives and chose to hike trails and waking paths over ostentatious gatherings. Together they built over 67 summer cottages on the island.
John D. Rockefeller Jr., an avid horseman who grew up watching his father build landscaped carriage roads at their estates in Ohio and New York dedicated himself to building the Carriage Road. Overall, it took Rockefeller 27 years (1913-1940) to build the 48-mile stretch over Mount Desert Island.
At the same time many of the Cottagers, led by George Dorr, known as “the greatest one-man show in the history of land conservation” were troubled by the dangers of the newly invented gasoline-powered sawmill. Together they established the Hancock County Trustees of Public Reservations with the sole purpose to preserve land for use of the public.
The land was offered to the federal government in 1916 and named Sieur de Monts National Monument.
In 1919, President Woodrow Wilson signed the act establishing it Lafayette National Park. George Dorr became the first park superintended and in 1929 changed the name to Acadia National Park.
The extravagant lifestyle of the wealthy who owned the cottages in the park came to a halt during the Great Depression and when World War II broke out, the cottages with furniture draped in cotton cloth were boarded and closed for good. The final hope of returning suffered its death when almost all the cottages were destroyed in a major fire in 1947.
One of the remaining homes, Jordan Pond House, built by the Jordan family in 1847 changed hands multiple times until John D. Rockefeller purchased the home and donated it to the National Park System. Today it is a restaurant.
They say blessings are often mixed and adversity brings out our true nature. And that, in my opinion, is what makes this story worth sharing. At a time when fear was high and the future uncertain, a time when most would hold on to their assets with clenched fists, the families owning the cottage land acted out of love for the land itself and endowed their properties to the National Park System.
The Park Today
The park includes mountains, lakes, ponds, coniferous and deciduous woodlands, wetlands, and an ocean coastline encompassing 49,075 acres. It protects the habitats of 37 species and in 1991 peregrine falcons had the first successful nesting since 1956.
Today, more than 3.5 million people visit the park each year.
There are 26 peaks in Acadia, of which 11 have earned the title “mountain.” Tad was a trooper at helping to manage my neck and knee pain to allow us to ride through 11 of the 48 gorgeous miles. We began at the Northern tip of the glacially rounded Bubble Pond, peddled over the lower part of Pemetic Mountain (1248ft/380m), to the Southern tip of Jordan Pond. From there we biked across the northern hills of Penobscot Mountain (1194ft/360m) and then it was smooth sailing all the way down to Lower Hadlock Pond.
It seemed strange to me that we only biked 11 miles, but believe me, it was a lot of hills!
We chose not to take the bus back and biked to the Marina. Needless to say.... I earned myself two scoops of ice cream!
Free Island Bus transportation: Island Explorer
There is also an app, which makes roads much easier to figure out.