But the story of Acadia can't be limited to cold waters, warm popovers, and heady mountain views. Its real story is about people—the ones who got so much of the island ready to become a park even before there was a National Park Service to look after it, and the ones today who, by donations of daywork and dollars, carry on the Acadian tradition. "This park is the model for citizen participation," says Sheridan Steele, Acadia's superintendent. About 3,500 nonsalaried volunteers perform 40,000 hours of service over the course of a year, not to mention substantial financial assistance flowing from the nonprofit Friends of Acadia. "This is where philanthropy in the national parks started," says Steele. "Without it, Acadia as we know it might never have happened."
Going way, way back, of course, the story of Acadia had nothing to do with park making and everything to do with homemaking, initially by Native Americans whose middens date back at least 5,000 years, and then by the French, whose sailcloth rover, Samuel de Champlain, scouting the Maine coast in 1604, pronounced a certain island's mountains to be "all bare and rocky" and dutifully dubbed the place Isle des Monts Deserts. But European settlement here never quite caught on over the next 150 years while colonial French and English wrestled for control of the territory. finally, in 1761, a handful of English staked a claim at the north end of Somes Sound, and it wasn't long before Mount Desert was speckled with villages, lumber mills, fish-drying racks, and shipyards.
Tourists began arriving in the mid-19th century. Among the first were a couple of brushstroke masters from the Hudson River school, the artists Thomas Cole and Frederic Church. Their land- and seascapes (Cole's brush favored Frenchman Bay) alerted America to the wonders of the island, and in the 1890s tourism became a flourishing industry. Mount Desert sprouted vacation hotels and elegant seaside "cottages" for such privileged patricians as Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, and Astors.
Nothing links the past and present of Acadia quite so much as the challenge of moving people around the park—on hiking trails, on carriage paths, and along the conventional roads that had never heard the clatter of internal combustion until Maine lifted its island-wide ban on motor vehicles in 1915. The organization Friends of Acadia, headquartered at Bar Harbor, is helping the Park Service meet the challenge on each of these fronts.