A Land of Parks and Rec Trail

Stop 1: Bar Harbor, ME

When I have told people the story of my two baseball trips over the years they often asked what the best part was; equally often they are surprised when I tell them that many of them had nothing to do with baseball. The economic necessity of camping out most nights pretty quickly became one of the best parts of both trips. It was also why I am quite confident that there are beautiful parks and public spaces all across the USA. We will begin the Parks and Rec Trail with a National Park and the collection of US National Parks is pretty amazing, for camping or just day trips. But the same is true for state parks and even county and municipal parks and this trail will celebrate great outdoor spaces at every level.

Worth Celebrating

My history with Acadia National Park goes back a long time and that is, at least partially, the reason why this post is about a week later than I thought it would be. It is by far the closest of the big national parks to where I grew up and although I saw the big parks of the West including the Grand Canyon when I was a very little boy, Acadia has always been right up there with my favorites.

A lot of that has to do with personal history. My brother and his wife have lived a couple of hours down the coast of Maine since I was a kid and we made a few trips to Mount Desert Island when I was growing up and then a few more as an adult. My wife Elizabeth and I got married at an iconic lighthouse down the coast and Acadia was our first stop on our honeymoon…but this is where the delay comes in. I’m pretty sure we have a bunch of pictures of the park and its surroundings from that trip. We stayed at the beautiful Seawall campground near Southwest Harbor, ate the obligatory (and delicious) lobster or two and, I’m pretty sure, took lots of pictures. But I can’t find them…anywhere.

Over the course of the last week I have scoured every digital hiding spot in the Hartland Craib household. We’ve found all of the various memory cards and CDs and pulled pictures off them. We’ve gathered all of the pictures on phones and various cameras and consolidated the photos and videos housed on multiple computers. We even removed a hard drive off an old dead laptop and successfully recovered a bunch of pictures with this handy device. We found lots of pictures of the wedding and even pictures of later stops on the honeymoon, but alas none from Acadia.

Truth be told, the pictures were taken almost 15 years ago and there are many better images of Acadia National Park in the sites on a Pinterest board I put together displayed down the page…but still

Here, though, are a few of the pictures I did find of our wedding weekend at beautiful Pemaquid Point.

Kind of like Jazz, writing isn’t really the medium best used to appreciate the natural beauty of Acadia National Park. I do find the concept of Pinterest useful for this..here are a few pins about the park, I particularly like the one about visiting in winter, which is a lot like what it looks like right now.

A Work in Progress

I promise, I’m not going to write about Covid-19 every day. It is an inescapable issue in today’s world and thus I, mostly, question the value of adding my blog voice to it. But two things I read last week and another this morning give me pause. It is also true that while the pandemic has dominated the news everywhere, it has additional impact in places where the economy is impacted by tourism and Bar Harbor, Maine is just such a place. How Acadia National Park is responding to the virus now and will respond this coming summer is very much a work in progress and a central issue here.

The first of the articles was by David Leonhardt of the New York Times in its daily newsletter-The Morning. The piece, which ran last week is titled Covid Absolutism and it makes a case I find persuasive, that by trying to eliminate all risk associated with transmitting the disease we may actually be making things worse by not properly differentiating between risks that are more reasonable to take and those that are not.

“Banning college students from outdoor walks won’t make them stay inside their dorm rooms for weeks on end. But it probably will increase the chances that they surreptitiously gather indoors.”

NY Times – Covid Absolutism 2/12/21

An article that appeared in the same newsletter this morning followed a similar theme; looking for absolutes in the world of Covid-19 is not only likely to be fruitless, it is dangerous. Vaccine Alarmism looks at some recent statistics about how well the various vaccines are being administered and highlights the large number of Americans that are refusing their chance to get vaccinated when it comes. The article suggests that, at least part of the blame for this lies in the way health experts and journalists talk about effectiveness and risk. These people deal with ambiguity for a living. At their best, they present both sides of an argument in a news story or highlight challenges with their hypotheses in a scientific environment. But this tendency toward professionalism, the article posits, is dampening people’s hopes just when they need them most. Each of these articles is a two-minute read and I recommend them.

My third bit of reading was decidedly less cerebral. I was browsing through the Acadia National Park Facebook site and somehow stumbled in to a thread of comments from visitors to the page. On a site devoted to one of the most beautiful national parks in the country, I guess I expected pictures that people had taken or their stories about their visit and there are many of those. But there is also a…(the cursor blinks while I struggle to come up with the right adjective)…disturbing thread about a campaign the national park service came up with to encourage people to wear masks when visiting. Many, more than a dozen, people decided this was the place to vent their frustration about wearing masks. There are the “Sheeple” memes and “Don’t Drink the Koolaid” and helpful comments from people like Nikki who says “Masks do not reduce transmission rates but they do identify the conformists.”

And this is what has me worried and where the amazing freedom all Americans have to form their own opinions and express themselves truly shows its dark side. A policy of when and where people should wear masks at Acadia (and all other outdoor spaces in the months ahead,) really needs to be discussed, publicized and followed by people that understand how to distinguish between the different levels of risk discussed in the Times’ articles. But as one comment in the thread astutely pointed out, people seem to struggle with nuance these days and that could be a fatal flaw for all of us.

One woman in the thread said that we shouldn’t be wearing masks and pointed out that the European Union had “banned” the use of cloth masks. What she either didn’t understand or didn’t communicate to the group was that the countries in question have asked that people wear more effective masks, not stop wearing them entirely…that is an important nuance.

I expect Nikki was pleased to get 21 likes for her comment, which I suppose was the point. But could anyone really think that counts as information that is otherwise worth passing on? “I know scientists around the world say that wearing a mask helps slow the spread of the disease but Nikki on the Acadia National Park page on Facebook says they don’t so I guess I’m good?”

I struggled with whether to put the link to the video of Kansas City’s Mayor acknowledging the pain of the woman who does the sign language translation of his speeches in last weeks post. It felt vaguely sensational and it made me feel mawkish to share a link to a video in which someone else’s grief is on such full display. I did, though, for the same reason, I expect, the mayor added her story to his State of the City address and she continued with her duties signing his remarks. Because, while the numbers have recently been improving, Covid-19 is still exacting a terrible price on thousands of Americans…right now…today. And I was wishing that the Nikkis of the world would somehow see that video and think to themselves…if there is anything I can do to stop another human being from having to experience that, I will do it.

In order for the tourism industry of Bar Harbor and other popular vacation spots to bounce back to anything approximating normal this summer it is going to require that people feel safe going there. That means two things, having a pretty high level of confidence about what is and is not safe and a belief that the other people they will encounter do too. As all of these articles highlight, that is truly a work in progress.

Meanwhile, even pre-Covid, the impact of tourism on Bar Harbor and its surrounding towns was a double-edged sword. Not surprisingly, the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce has a robust web site that makes visiting seem very appealing and among the various documents on the town’s website is a lengthy research report from the University of Maine that looks at the significant economic impact of cruise ship passengers on the town.

On the other hand (see? there’s that tendency to nod toward ambiguity,) locals often tire of the throngs in the busy months as they do in other touristy spots and, as this op-ed points out, there was a feeling, even before Covid, that tourism shouldn’t be too big a slice of the economic pie.

Coming up next on the Project to Find America, we will wrap up the first round of trails by launching the American Sports Trail in sunny Florida..stay tuned.

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