UPDATE Sept. 16: Since the original public hearing notice, Acadia National Park expanded the agenda to include update on the boat launch in the inner cove, and use and access to the outer cove fish house, as shared by Otter Creek Hall’s Facebook page.
Here’s the original story:
As part of a grand design to connect villages to Acadia National Park via footpath, two old Otter Creek trails slated for upgrading could be a boon for residents, campers and hikers, and may also address some of the long-standing tension between community and park.
Acadia officials will air the proposal to improve the trails at a hearing on Sept. 16, 6 p.m. at Otter Creek Hall, 82 Otter Creek Drive. Also likely to be discussed: The state of Otter Creek-park relations, which at times have been strained.
The historic trails, long used by residents, would be rehabilitated and better marked, and would allow residents and visitors to walk from the village of Otter Creek, to newly opened park trails that connect to Gorham Mountain, Otter Cove and Blackwoods Campground.
The network of trails would create many long day-hiking opportunities, limited only by one’s imagination, map, or guidebook.
And it may also help ease some of the old conflicts between the park and the Otter Creek community, which was cut off from the waterfront after John D. Rockefeller Jr. bought land along Otter Cove in the 1930s, as part of his vision for the park.
The trails initiative is part of a years-long effort by the park and Friends of Acadia, to re-create the ability for residents and visitors to walk from villages to the mountains, ponds and sea, as was the case during the days of the 19th and early 20th century rusticators, or artists, tourists, and summer residents, who would think nothing of walking 5, 10, or 15 miles in a day.
And Otter Creek residents have been talking with park officials over the last year about upgrading the old village trails to improve access to the waterfront, a sore point over the decades.
Although the community doesn’t rely on fishing or lobstering as it used to, residents continue to feel strongly about access to Otter Cove, as documented by a 2012 report, “The Waterfront of Otter Creek: A Community History,” by Douglas Deur, PhD, an associate research professor at Portland State University.
Of all the villages on Mount Desert Island affected by the park, Otter Creek is the only one to have been completely cut off from the waterfront and encircled by the park, according to the 244-page report, prepared for the National Park Service’s ethnography program.
The report, which includes the long history of Otter Creek-park relations and interviews with current residents, highlighted such other sources of conflict as the park service’s tearing down of some families’ fish shacks on Otter Cove in the 1970s, some of which had been abandoned with changes in the fishing industry and village economy.
It also found more recent hopeful signs in community-park discussions, even as Otter Creek’s identity continues to stand apart from that of its neighbors.
As one Otter Creek resident, graphic artist Karen Zimmermann and former president of the non-profit Aid Society of Otter Creek, describes the village perspective on her “From the Creek” blog: “Geographically near Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor, but light years away in attitude.” Zimmermann was featured in a recent Friends of Acadia blog post, about the expanding trail network, along with her map about the trails and historic sites around Otter Creek.
The two long-used community trails to be improved would connect Walls Street and Grover Avenue in Otter Creek to the newly opened Quarry Trail, which leads from Blackwoods Campground to Otter Cove at a causeway and three-arch bridge that Rockefeller helped build. From there, the new Otter Cove Trail connects to the Gorham Mountain Trail.
The Quarry Trail, following part of the route of an old quarry road, and the Otter Cove Trail, which takes you through a large grove of ash trees, were officially opened on June 7, National Trails Day. Combined, they provide a 1.8-mile round-trip access to the Gorham Mountain Trail for campers at Blackwoods.
With the upgraded village connector trails, the day-hiking possibilities to and from Otter Creek are endless, especially when combined with the Island Explorer bus in season.
For example, you could walk from Otter Creek to Gorham Mountain, as well as to the mountain pond known as the Bowl, Champlain Mountain, the Beehive or Sand Beach.
From Sand Beach, you could loop back on Ocean Path to the Gorham Mountain trailhead, and then head west and north back to Otter Creek. Or, during peak season, you could even take the Island Explorer’s Sand Beach and Blackwoods Campground bus line, and head back to Otter Creek that way.
With these Otter Creek village connector trails, you could also head southwest to Blackwoods Campground and then north on one of the longest trails in the park, the Cadillac South Ridge Trail, to the top of the highest mountain in Acadia. There’s no Island Explorer at the top of Cadillac, though, so you have to be prepared for the long hike back.
Aside from the benefits to Otter Creek residents and visitors and Blackwoods campers, perhaps the trail network could also be a plus to Otter Creek businesses, such as the Otter Creek Inn and Market, the Burning Tree restaurant, and a hot-shower facility for hikers and campers.
If you can’t make the Sept. 16 hearing, you can submit your comments in writing, to Charlie Jacobi, Acadia National Park, PO Box 177, Bar Harbor, ME 04609, or online. The public comment period runs from Sept. 5 through Oct. 17.