Read Roberta's reflections on the Bar Harbor bed and breakfast experience. The following items are included in the forthcoming collection by Roberta Chester called “Be My Guest: The Inside Story of a B & B in Maine.”
“News and Notes 2019”
Thirty-seven years ago when my entrepreneurial 10 year old daughter was selling lemonade on the Shore Path, the visit of the Queen Elizabeth was a momentous occasion and we locals were nothing less than awestruck by the spectacle parked in our “front yard.” Used to seeing lobster boats, kayakers, sailboats and “The Blue Nose” ferry on the way to and from Nova Scotia, this famed ocean liner was the big attraction of the season. Well in advance of her visit, amateur photographers from all over the island were snapping pictures on their now antiquated cameras. It was a cold and drizzly day in October and my daughter, having made the strategic decision to switch to hot chocolate, ran home for supplies, afraid to miss a single potential customer strolling on the Shore Path. For several weeks prior to her arrival we read about her statistics, amenities, her distinguished passengers and all the many details required to keep her afloat.
In the beginning each cruise ship was a curiosity — a gargantuan, sparkling white mirage, boasting several floating theme parks, non-stop food courts and fitted out with a whole array of nautical bells and whistles. Slowly, escaping our awareness, two and then often even three ships appeared in the harbor, becoming a source of pride as Bar Harbor became not only a preferred destination on land but also on sea. Island publications boasted of the numbers, at last count (2019 season) 180 with 197 cruise ships anticipated in 2020 between early June and early November.
As the numbers of cruise ships increased and bringing in as many as 6000 passengers a day, local residents, businesses, and land-based tourists began to complain. The steps taken by the task force to efficiently and safely move thousands of people to their activities were negatively impacting Bar Harbor’s business and land-based tourists. As many as seven and eight huge busses were idling in the harbor waiting for the passengers to board on their way into Acadia National Park. The sidewalks in Bar Harbor were so clogged with cruise ship passengers (those opting to shop rather than visit the park) that pedestrians were forced to walk in the streets and stand in lines to make their purchases.
Meanwhile the busses clogged the access roads to the park to the point that the traffic required closing the access for periods of time. Residents were subjected to the early morning loud speakers directing the passengers to the tenders ferrying them into the harbor and giving directions for their ten-hour visit here. Soon there were calls for committees to assess the situation regarding the advantages and disadvantages with special interest groups arguing on the pros and cons. The tea shirt, trinket and ice cream shops, always in abundance in Bar Harbor, were increasing and expanding to cater to the passengers and their preferences. The battle lines were drawn between the shops and the excursion owners and the residents, and B & B owners and those higher priced shops that did not attract the passengers. In 2017 the controversy attracted the national media as an article even appeared in the New York Times. Small town fighting to maintain its quality of life vs. the huge cruise ship industry providing alleged profits for village improvements made for good copy.
Meanwhile, the well-being and survival of a whole other population were totally ignored. While the humans were arguing about the pros and cons of 6000 people descending on Bar Harbor, no one was addressing the threat to the marine life in the Gulf of Maine. Issues include concerns about huge amounts of garbage generated by cruise ships. By 2018 coast line countries throughout the world were alarmed by the amount of plastic in the oceans as autopsies on whales and other marine life revealed large amounts of plastic. Various expeditions assumed the task of cleaning the oceans from huge amounts of tiny bits of debris indicating that the oceans have become a dumping ground. Although dumping regulations exist, they are virtually impossible to enforce. Fines have been imposed but they are a drop in the bucket (no pun intended) for a multi-billion-dollar industry. Documentary film such as “Sonic Sea” depict the debilitating effect of noise generated by increasing numbers of sea going vessels on marine life which interferes with the ability of whales, for example, to communicate via echo location, a crucial ability for their survival.
This is the damage that we don’t see; beneath the surface of the water our entire marine ecosystem is threatened and the damage may already be irreversible. And so I am feeling compelled to battle the environmental criminals with the hope that the cruise ships can be limited to just one with no more than 500 passengesr. Luckily, I am a member of a small group committed to defending our town and our ocean.
Tomorrow morning I will awake to the sound of the loud speakers on the cruise ships and the vision of probably two ships, literally “in my face” obliterating the porcupine Islands.
Looking forward to keeping you posted from here in “the night kitchen” at the Shore Path Cottage.
- Roberta Chester, 2019