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Island worlds of their own, worth your attention

> Islesboro
> North Haven
> Vinalhaven
> Swan's Island
> Monhegan
> Matinicus

Islesboro

Islesboro is a curious island that is at once one of the closest—three miles—to the mainland and yet one of the least visited retreats in the Penobscot Bay area.

This circumstance is largely due not to a lack of ferry service, but to the paucity of short-term or occasional accommodations. And that's pretty much the way the local residents---some of whom area quite successful moguls of capitalism and others are international film stars---like it. Indeed, they wouldn't have it any other way.

This splendid isolation is largely governed by "Margaret Chase Smith," the 30-car ferry that makes the three-miles crossing in 20 minutes and runs from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. However, locals warn that “during the summer the ferry becomes congested and parking becomes limited.” A water taxi or two also operate but on an irregular. Check the Lincolnville-to-Isleboro ferry schedule by clicking here.

At 13 miles long and about a mile-and-a-half wide at its broadest point, Islesboro has several parks and picnic area as well as two general stores. While there are several harbors---notably Gilkey's and Dark Harbor---only the Warren Island State Park has public moorings. Boaters, however, can refuel Dark Harbor or 700-Acre Island.

Although no camping is allowed, summer rentals and the Dark Harbor Bed & Breakfast provide what limited facilities are available for the casual visitor.

Even though Islesboro is no exactly designed for the tourist trade, its “year-rounder” population of something over 600 swells to over two when the “summer people” arrive in June. Some locals claim that the year-round population may have grown by as much as 150 in the last 20 years as a result of the summer people winterizing their cottages and staying on past Labor Day. Additionally, a few [though not many] new palatial estates have been constructed.

Not surprisingly, the increase in the summer population and their own needs---often unique in quantity if not style from the year-rounders---can become sources of friction, a circumstance that the people from away may not even be aware of. For instance, following is a recent [Feb., 2002] posting on the Islesboro Internet bulletin board:

“At a small meeting of islanders the other day, the subject of our water supply and its problems was brought up for discussion. What troubled us all was the fragility of our island aquifer, and the threat posed by the current quantity overuse in the summer and the pollution of its quality by the use of chemical fertilizers and insecticides. The abuse of these substances particularly by large landowners who employ professional groundskeepers, the overuse of the water supply for the upkeep of extensive lawns and gardens and the golf course jeopardizes everyone's water supply. It would seem prudent to establish some island ground-rules,” wrote a year-rounder under the heading “Our Island Water Supply and Its Quality.”

[You can peek into written discussion about island life at the following URL, which is the island's Internet bulletin board: http://pub76.ezboard.com/bislandintime.]

As is the case in other tourist-dominated areas of coastal Maine, much of the local economy is based on maintaining each others buildings, supporting the lobstering trade and maintaining necessary infrastructures---such as stores, community services and the transportation public facilities. Also as elsewhere in Maine, work is often seasonal, meaning the tourist-season [Memorial Day to Labor Day] and the rest of the year, the non-tourist-season.

Islesboro is worth a week's visit if you are lucky enough to find a place to stay. Otherwise, it is worth a day trip. In either case, drive carefully. The roads are often narrow and require your attention.

North Haven Island

North Haven, Vinalhaven and Hurricane are the three primary islands of the Fox Islands group, so named in 1603, with Hurricane being little more than a rock pile. Collectively the group separates West Penobscot Bay from East Penobscot Bay.

North Haven and Vinalhaven went by one name, Vinalhaven until the northern sister seceded in 1846 from the union and became the separate North Haven.

The two are separated by the short, narrow Fox Islands Thorofare. North Haven is the more verdant of the two island, and once supporting farming. North Haven has long been the home to affluent summer people "from away," who were called "rusticators" in the 19th century when they began to invade from Boston and other points south.

Until then, fishing, lobstering and boat building were the sustaining industries on the island. Then the locals discovered a new industry, people, people who built "cottages" and had family names like Morrow, Lamont, Saltonstall, Cabot and Strong, among other American notables for whom the place was simply known as "the island."
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This new industry of helping satisfy the needs of the people "from away" extended from construction of their less-than-modest cottages to working in their homes to looking after them during the off-seasons ensuring that the vandalism of nature and man caused as little harm as possible.

Today the permanent population if just under 400, but swells considerably during the summer months. With modesty typical of dry-humored Mainers, the town notes:

North Haven is an island town proud of its traditions, its independence, its treasured natural beauty and its unique community of twelfth generation natives, fourth (as well as first) generation seasonal residents, retired and pre-retired baby boomers, maverick spirits, new arrivals, young year-round families, old bachelors, reconstructed hippies, young farmers, not-so-young Grangers, artists, sailors, artisans, fishermen, boat-builders, babies, politicians (of past, present and future renown), actors, makers-of-many-things, brides, romantics and curmudgeons. There is overlap among these categories.

Vinalhaven Island

Vinalhaven to this day the more "working" island of the two. While the island Vinalhaven has many summer homes, unlike North Haven it has a strong working history, which for a period was based on the granite quarrying industry. That industry provided the granite for New York City's St. John the Devine church and the Brooklyn Bridge.

Today, this island 12 miles from Rockland by state ferry has about 1200 permanent residents, with much of their livelihood tied either directly or indirectly to marine industries.

The Maine State Ferry makes regular daily trips to the island from Rockland. The trip provides an hour and 10 minutes of beautiful Penobscot Bay vistas. Once on the island, however, there are only a few shops, a couple of eateries, and a shop or two. All are about a 10-minute walk from the ferry terminal. Unless you are renting a house or guest room for a leisurely stay, there is little to engage a casual visitor.

Vinalhaven's current claim to fame, however, is its first wind farm on the Maine coast. The three enormous fans provide an artistic type of sculptured vista as you approach the island from the west.

Run by the Fox Islands Electric Cooperative, the project became operational in November, 2009, and will produce enough power to meet the needs of the residents of Vinalhaven as well as North Haven, ironically returning the islands to a level of self sufficiency not seen for 100 years or more.

Swan's Island

Swan's Island is a short ferry ride from Bass Harbor. While the ferry dock's on the northwest side of the island, its best feature is Hockamock Head Light and Burnt Coat Harbor over the crest of island on the southern rim. Therefore, this delightfully isolated location is best approach by private boat.

The six mile ferry crossing from Bass Harbor takes about 30 minutes. The boat has room for 17 automobiles as well as walk-on passengers.

The permanent residents number about 350, with a total summer population of about 1000. Despite its natural beauty and quiet serenity, the island offer no amenities familiar on the mainland, no stores, not liquor sales, and no amusements.

The primary occupation and source of income on Swan's Island is lobstering. This is supplied by about 40 full-time lobstermen and women, many part-timers, and school children who fish from small skiffs in the summer.

The island's Website is blunt about who might and might not be suited for a stay on their chunk of rock.

Swan's Island is not for ...
> Those who depend on a high level of outside entertainment.
> Those who want instant, inexpensive travel facilities.
> Those with a low threshold of frustration because of inevitable delays of Island living.

Swan's island, however, is for...
> A very special kind of individual.
> Those who are skilled at entertaining themselves
> Those who delight in spectacular scenery and appreciate.
> Those who are content with low-keyed social life.

Probably the island's greatest claim to fame is that it was the birthplace of Cincinnati Pops' legendary conductor Eric Kunzel, who died at age 74, in 2009, at a Bar Harbor hospital. Kunzel, who had been associated with the Cincinnati orchestra for 44 year, maintained a home on the island until his death, as well as residences in Newport, Ky, (across the Ohio River from Cincinnati) and Naples, FL.

Monhegan Island

If you listen to its apologists, arriving at Monhegan Island is an experience akin to alighting on the last cobble in the Yellow Brick Road. Some murmur of spiritual rekindling. Others wax about creative epiphanies. Almost everyone flashes the artistic imprimatur conveyed by all three generations of Wyeth s — NC, Andy and Jamie.

Even without that exuberance, Monhegan Island is still a special place. But, then, your MaineObserver believes that all of the Maine coast is special. After all, the Wyeths' painted on the mainland, too.

Nonetheless, Monhegan Island commands the riveted attention---even awe for some---of the many who have visited her shores over the last 400 years of recorded history.

Indeed, well before the 17th Century arrival of Captain John Smith, Native Americans already had staked a claim to the island based on its rich local fishing pools. Even today, commercial fishing remains an important aspect of the island’s economy.

Thus, Capt. Smith seems to have begun a trend of people “from away” repeatedly re-discovering Monhegan.

By the mid-19th Century, a different breed of explorer was finding anew this solitary sentinel nearly a dozen miles off the Maine shore.

And this time the next level of gentrification would have begin to have even more far-reaching impact. These explorer were the urbane elite from Boston, New York and Philadelphia. They would become known as “rusticators,” a term that came into existence largely on the mainland, but one that is equally applicable here. In either location, rusticators were the wealthy folks “from away” seeking refuge from sweltering city summer’s.

In this first wave of summer people were notable artists were the painter of urbanism Edward Hopper; realist painter George Bellows; illustrator Rockwell Kent; independent school artist Emil Holzhauer; and the three generations of famous Wyeths: NC, Andrew, and Jamie.

As always seems to be the case with aesthetically compelling and attractively priced destinations haunted by artists, the island’s turn-of-the-century appeal helped seal its eventual fate. Thus, today, many artists find spending time on Monhegan unaffordable. Addressing this issue, the Monhegan Artists Residency Corporation has established a cottage project to help “give back to Maine artists part of their heritage and tradition, including a period for creative experimentation and exploration.” The subsidized summer cottage, Carina House, is the result.

Among those rusticators of the middle years was Thomas Edison, son of the inventor Thomas Alva. The younger Edison founded in the 1954 the Monhegan Associates. The Associates mission was one of preserving the “natural wild beauty” and protecting and preserving the island’s “simple, friendly way of life.” As a result, virtually every speck of land outside of the village remains in a wild, natural state and is vigilantly protected by Association.

With such divergent constituencies crammed into such a compact space as this island---less than one mile square ---one can imagine that development of a fairly well-defined hierarchy would be inevitable.

At the peak of this pecking order are the year-rounders; they number about 75. Following the true locals are the summer people, who number a couple hundred. And decidedly last are the day-trippers, who reach as many as 600-or-a-day during the three summer months.

This polite confrontation among cultures was bluntly stated in a July, 2001, National Geographic Magazine article which carried the headline, which declared:

Welcome to Monhegan Island, Maine.

Now, please go away.

While that sort of ambivalence exists among locals throughout much of tourist-trampled Maine, it likely is most evident where native assets are most tenuous. As a result of such conflicts between preservations [often those from away] and free traders [often the locals], the following challenges and restrictions exist on Monhegan.

> No mainland cars allowed. Plan to walk.
> Bicycles are not permitted on trials.
> No paved roads. Wear good shoes.
> Chill winds off of the open Atlantic can be expected; bring something warm--even in August.
> Mosquitoes and poison ivy are common trailside.
> Local ticks have been found with Lyme disease.
> Terrain is often rugged, uneven and slippery when close to the water. Down fall; there are no resident physicians.
> Other than the marked paths, all property is private and waking on it is considered trespassing. > Purchase trail maps and follow them.
> Rock stacks, called cairns, mark trails; do not disturb them.
> Local trucks have the right-of-way over pedestrians and pets. Pay heed; step aside.
> For the day-tripper, only two [pay] toilets are available on the island. They’re behind the Monhegan House. Your boat’s facilities are available, though.
> Dogs must be on leashes; also you must pick up after you dog as you do in the city.
> Boat fare will be charged for your dog’s passage to and from the island.
> Some snack and restaurant food is available; but a sack lunch is a good idea.
> There’s no bank, and only one ATM. You’ll find it on the dock.
> Private boat mooring space is available, but limited.
> Bring mooring lines sufficient to accommodate 11 foot tides.
> Both ferry and sleeping accommodations are limited. Make reservations well in advance.
> No smoking allowed outside the village
> No camping.
> No campfires.
> No barbecues.
> No flower picking.
> No litter.

Matinicus Island

Abenaki Indians named the island Matinicus; the word means "far out island," and they were right.

Matinicus is another world, on the outermost reaches of Penobscot Bay and with limited Maine State Ferry Service. Passes once a month from November through March; three times a month during April, May and October; and four time a month from June through September.

Additionally, modest air service is available from Owl's Head Airport, near Rockland is available.

Located 22 miles off the Maine coast, Matinicus leaders admit that while their island may be an extraordinary destination, it is "not for everyone" because it is "it is remote, a bit rustic, and that requires a sense of adventure, tolerance, independence, and humor."

The Boston Globe described Matinicus as "rugged, but beautiful, with sweeping ocean views and sandy beaches...one of the last places in Maine where the old Down East lifestyle survives in anything like it's pure form... unspoiled and unpretentious."

Lobstering is the economic mainstay of the island population, and lobstermen from the mainland use the island' waters for fishing as the lobster remove themselves from the colder shoreside waters.




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