Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Road to Acadia

To reach Acadia National Park we drove north on I-95 to Augusta, then Route 3 east all the way to Mount Desert Island. Route 3 passes through a series of small, inland towns--South China, Palermo, Liberty, Morrill, and Belmont--before reaching Belfast. The sights along this stretch were mostly of houses for sale, boarded up business, and over-harvested forests as far as the eye could see. Beyond Belfast, even the coastal towns of Searsport and Stockton Springs appeared to be faring no better. This trend continued beyond Bucksport, through the towns of Orland, west Ellsworth, and Trenton, at the doorstep of Mount Desert Island.

The contrast between these depressed, rural towns, and the beauty of Acadia and the bustling town of Bar Harbor was stark. There is wealth in this region of Maine, but it is tucked into the coves, rocky hillsides, and discreet, coastal areas. I imagine that some of those folks must reach their homes by boat, avoiding the Route 3 corridor jumble of tourist buses, RVs, cars, bicycles, road crews, and trucks.

We found two state-owned sites along Route 3, between Augusta and Acadia, where we stopped for our picnic lunch. The first was Lake St. George State Park in the town of Liberty. When we entered, the toll gate keeper said we wouldn't like the entrance fee -- $6.00 each for adults and $2.00 each for seniors. It turned out to be a nice picnic spot on the lake, with a large lawn for Kodi to run about (supposed to be on leash we learned later) and clean bathrooms, although $16 to have our own picnic lunch did seem a little steep.

On our return from Acadia we stopped at Fort Knox State Historic Site and Penobscot Narrows Observatory in Prospect. It was another lovely picnic spot--this one overlooking the Penobscot River. During the American Revolution and the War of 1812, the British seized control of the Penobscot River and claimed this very site for the British Crown. As we know, their control of the area did not last, but the United States was concerned that the Penobscot might be attacked again and decided to build a fort.

Construction of the fort did not begin until 1844 and was never really finished and never really used. The large cannons required 12 men to load the 450 pound cannonball; the cannon could fire a solid cannonball 5,579 yards. The fort was built of granite blocks, quarried from Mt. Waldo five miles upstream. By the time the fort was nearly finished, the threat from the British diminished and warfare technology had changed. Still, it is an intriguing site and worth a walkabout.
In 2006 a new bridge was built over the Penobscot River adjacent to Fort Knox. A visit to the fort includes a visit to the Penobscot Narrows Observatory, where an elevator ride takes you to the top of one of the bridge's granite obelisks. The bridge is a "cable-stayed bridge." The bridge deck and cars are supported by a system of wires 1/5 inch thick twisted together into a series of cables.
The historic site offers a span of history from the mid 1800's when the fort was constructed, to the 1930s when the old bridge of the Penobscot was built, to the present day. This is all set within the larger natural landscape of Penobscot Bay and coastal Maine.
The beauty of this landscape and the capacity of humans to engineer infrastructure suited to the times are intertwined at this site. It is well worth a stop to or from Acadia National Park. If only the communities in between could benefit from or build on these natural and man-made features.


  1. Ellen, thank you for posting your "travel notes" for your journey to/from Acadia. This report, and the previous one filed about your actual visit at Acadia, will be very useful for the trip that Cheri (my wife) and I might be taking there in early October.


  2. Hi John,

    Glad this will be helpful. Best wishes for beautiful blue-sky days for your trip there. It is definitely moodier when the skies are gray.