Acadia National Park in Winter | Yankee Classic
It is then that the locals return to claim their prized park. They come to cross-country ski and hike and snowmobile through Acadia’s 40,000 acres. “It’s nice to go down to the shore when the tourists have gone, see the high surf and frozen ice on the trees,” says islander Ralph Richardson. “It’s very picturesque.” Richardson’s ancestors (with Abraham Somes) settled the island town of Somesville in 1762. He was born and raised there, but now lives in Somesville only off-season. “I move to the mainland come summer and leave the island to the tourists,” he says. “In the winter I come home and see the neighbors again.”
Somesville is one of five major towns on Mount Desert, Bar Harbor being the gateway and the most popular in season. But Bar Harbor in winter is like any organism responding to cold: It closes in on itself, shutting down the extremities (most of the 2,500 guest rooms), keeping the community core intact. One winter several years ago, things got so quiet that the weekly police blotter was short: Southwest Harbor police reported all was quiet last week. Except for Tuesday, when a Forest Avenue woman phoned police to complain about a neighbor’s dog who repeatedly stole cat food off her porch.
This year the townspeople will celebrate Bar Harbor’s bicentennial. In 1796 Bar Harbor belonged to Massachusetts, and the government there chose to call it Eden in honor of an Englishman. Locals, being more practical, called it Bar Harbor because of the sand bar that connects Mount Desert to Bar Island at low tide. After 125 years the government finally gave in and officially changed the name to Bar Harbor.
It was in the 1820s and 1830s that Bar Harbor became a playground for yachtsmen who hiked and climbed and hunted in the forest. And it was the artwork of landscape painters Thomas Cole and Frederic Church in the mid-1800s that attracted others to Eden. The tourists then were known as “rusticators” or “summercators.” They were put up at first by local families, but as more came over the years by train and boat from Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, Chicago, and all over, hotels sprang up and grew in number and size until they hit 30 in 1880, including one atop Cadillac Mountain and one (the Rodick House) that was the biggest summer hotel in the country.
Clearly Mount Desert was the place to be in summer; wealthy families — the Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, Pulitzers, Morgans, Astors — all built lavish cottages there. To make sure the island stayed the way they liked it, many of those prominent families contributed toward the creation of Acadia National Park. Under the leadership of Charles Eliot and George Bucknam Dorr, the rusticators put together a land trust at the turn of the century and, in 1916, officially established the first national park east of the Mississippi. It was also the first national park formed entirely of land donated by private citizens.
I drove to the base of Cadillac Mountain. In summer the summit road is often bumper to bumper, but now the unplowed road made a perfect path for my ascent on skis. It took me the rest of the morning, with frequent stops to view the interior of the island and Eastern Bay, but it was a splendid way to spend a sunny winter’s day.
At the top, 1,530 feet, I had reached the park’s highest spot — the highest spot on the Atlantic coast north of Brazil. If I had made it here at dawn, I could’ve been the first in the country to see the sun’s rays. It’s also the island’s best lookout: To the east lie the islands of Frenchman Bay with the Schoodic Peninsula beyond; to the south the Cranberry Islands, Seal Harbor, and the open sea.
You might think Cadillac Mountain was named for the well-paved road up its side, but it was named for Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac who took possession of the island in the late 1600s and later founded Detroit. If Cadillac Mountain were a Cadillac car, it would be pink, as is the granite underfoot — pink feldspar, glassy quartz, and blackish hornblende. My ski to the bottom passed in one long, continuous schuss. It matched the best backcountry skiing I have ever done.
That night I camped at the Blackwoods Campground on the southern tip of the island — as peaceful a night as I can remember. In the morning I snowshoed through the deserted park to the water’s edge and watched the sun rise on the Atlantic. I must admit, I felt clever to have such a sight to myself. Now that I have been to Acadia in winter, I may never go back in summer again.