Monday, April 30, 2007

Looking for evidence of the 1947 Fire

When you visit Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park, be on the look out for evidence of the 1947 fire and its effect on the landscape. If you visit the western side of the island you'll see what the eastern side looked like before the fires. Spruce and pine forests. The area around Jackson Labs and Sand beach is perfect for seeing the effect of a huge fire engulfing everything in its path including the soil. Even today after 50 years these areas only support forests of small birch and beech trees.

The famed 1947 fire that burned most of the eastern side of Mount Desert Island is the most recent extensive fire, but evidence of past burns is present in trees and soils throughout the Park. Post-fire aspen-birch communities are still abundant. The spruce-fir forests, the dominant closed-canopy forest type on the island, include a large component of earlier-successional birch and red maple within the area that burned, along with the maturing spruce and fir. Vegetation on the western half of the island, which escaped the 1947 fire, reflects more clearly the underlying edaphic characteristics rather than the effects of recent fire.

The Year Maine Burned

Maine winters are long. Spring is always eagerly anticipated and this was especially true in 1947. The gloominess of WWII still lingered and everyone looked forward to the return of nice weather. Disappointingly, it rained continually through April, May, and most of June. Finally, at the end of June, the sun came out, temperatures soared, and a glorious summer emerged. But weather patterns continued to be odd that year. Through the summer and into the fall, Maine received only 50% of its normal rainfall. Vegetation became bone dry. Water supplies dwindled. Still, most people did not worry - rain would come eventually. The island enjoyed one of the most beautiful Indian summers in memory. But the autumn rains never came and by mid-October, Mount Desert Island was experiencing the driest conditions ever recorded. The stage was set for a disastrous blaze.

On Friday, October 17, 1947,at 4 PM, the fire department received a call from Mrs. Gilbert, who lived near Dolliver's dump on Crooked Road west of Hulls Cove. She reported smoke rising from a cranberry bog between her home and the dump. No one knows what started the fire. It could have been cranberry pickers smoking cigarettes in the bog. Or perhaps it was sunlight shining through a piece of broken glass in the dump that acted like an incendiary magnifying glass. Whatever the cause, once ignited, the fire smoldered underground. From this quiet beginning arose an inferno that burned nearly half the eastern side of Mount Desert Island and made international news.

In its first three days, the fire burned a relatively small area, blackening only 169 acres. But on October 21, strong winds fanned the ßames and the blaze spread rapidly and raged out of control, engulÞng over 2,000 acres. Personnel from the Army Air Corps, Navy, Coast Guard, University of Maine forestry program, and Bangor Theological Seminary joined local fire fighting crews. National Park Service employees flew in from parks throughout the East and additional experts in the West were put on standby.

The pace of the blaze intensiÞed and nearly 2300 acres burned on October 22. The fire crossed Route 233 and continued along the western shore of Eagle Lake. On the morning of October 23, the wind shifted, pushing one finger of the fire toward Hulls Cove. Firefighters shifted their efforts in an attempt to squelch the threat to that community. But in the afternoon, the wind suddenly turned again and increased to gale proportions, as a dry cold front moved through, sending the inferno directly toward Bar Harbor. In less than three hours the wildfire traveled six miles, leaving behind a three mile wide path of destruction. The fire swept down Millionaires' Row, an impressive collection of majestic summer cottages on the shore of Frenchman Bay. Sixty-seven of these seasonal estates were destroyed. The fire skirted the business district, but razed 170 permanent homes and five large historic hotels in the area surrounding downtown Bar Harbor.

Bar Harbor residents not actively engaged in fire fighting tried to find safety, fleeing first to the athletic field and later to the town pier. At one point all roads from the town were blocked by flames, so fishermen from nearby Winter Harbor, Gouldsboro, and Lamoine prepared to help with a mass exodus by boat. At least 400 people left by sea. Finally, by 9 PM, bulldozers opened a pathway through the rubble on Route 3 and a caravan of 700 cars carrying 2000 people began the slow trip to safety in Ellsworth. According to eyewitness reports, it was a terrifying drive - cars were pelted by sparks and ßames flickered overhead. But the motorcade was orderly and successful, an uplifting end to a day that saw close to 11,000 additional acres blackened.

Still, the fire continued to burn. From Bar Harbor, the blaze raced down the coast almost to Otter Point, engulÞng and destroying the Jackson Laboratory on its way. The fire blew itself out over the ocean in a massive fireball. But that wasnÕt the end of the destruction. Almost 2000 more acres burned before the fire was declared under control on October 27. Organic soil and vegetation on the forest floor, along with matted tree roots infiltrating deeply around granite boulders, aided stubborn underground fires. Even weeks later, after rain and snow had fallen, fire still smoldered below ground. The fire was not pronounced completely out until 4 PM on November 14.

1947 Bar Harbor Fire


In all, some 17,188 acres burned. Over 10,000 acres of this was in Acadia National Park. Property damage exceeded twenty-three million dollars. Considering the magnitude of the fire, loss of human life had been minimal. An elderly man returned to his home to save his cat and was never seen alive again. A car accident claimed the lives of an Air Force officer and a local teenage girl. A man and woman, already ill, succumbed to heart attacks. An unknown number of animals died in the blaze, but park rangers believe that most outran the fire and found safety in ponds and lakes.

Once the fire was over, it was time to start anew. Two crews, one hired by the park and one hired by the Rockfeller family, logged selected park areas for timber salvage and clean-up. Some timber was milled, slash was burned, and other logs, still visible today, were left to prevent soil erosion.

Nature, however, played the predominant role in the island's restoration. The forests that exist today regrew naturally. Wind carried seeds back into burned areas and some deciduous trees regenerated by stump sprouts or suckers. Today's forest, however, is often different than what grew before the fire. Spruce and fir that reigned before the fire have given way to sun-loving trees, such as birch and aspen. But these deciduous trees are short-lived. As they grow and begin to shade out the forest floor, they provide a nursery for the shade-loving spruce and fir which may eventually reclaim the territory.

Fire has an important natural role. It clears away mature growth, opening areas to the sun-loving species that are food for wildlife. The fire of 1947 increased diversity in the composition and age structure of the park's forests. It even enhanced the scenery. Today, instead of one uniform evergreen forest, we are treated to a brilliant mix of red, yellow, and orange supplied by the new diverse deciduous forests.

Bar Harbor, too, was changed by the fire. Most of the permanent residents rebuilt their homes, but many of the grand summer cottages were not replaced. In fact, many of the seasonal families never returned. The estates on Millionaires' Row have been replaced by motels that house the ever-increasing tourist population. But the fire alone cannot be blamed for ending the island's once-grand "Cottage era" The opulent lifestyle had already been suffering from the effects of the newly invented income tax and the Depression. The destructive flames merely provided a final blow.

The fire on Mount Desert Island was publicized in headlines in newspapers around the world because the island was a renowned summer retreat for the wealthy. But actually, the fall of 1947 was a dry one throughout the state, and many serious fires occurred. State-wide, over 200,000 acres, 851 permanent homes, and 397 seasonal cottages were destroyed in "The year Maine burned."

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Tan Turtle Tavern - Visit 2

The Tan Turtle Tavern has such a large menu one wonders how they can possibly do it all well. Here are the results of our second visit.

Drink: TTT Black and Tan - Excellent!

Kid's Grilled Cheese - Excellent! Great bread.

Voodoo Fish Sandwich - Excellent! Great bun.

Chicken Pot Pie - So So. Very watery, soup-like "chicken stew". Menu claimed 'seasonal veggies' but the reality its was frozen peas and carrots.

We like the place, it's just a matter of figuring out what they do well (any fish dish seems like a safe bet) and what to avoid.

Thunder Hole - April Nor'easter

If you visit Thunder Hole in the summer on a calm day you might think 'what's all the fuss about?'. But check out this photo taken at high tide during the Nor'easter "Perfect Storm" on April 16th, 2007

Photo by Diane Woodworth

Thursday, April 12, 2007

More Restaurant Openings Around The Island

This is the time of year dining out starved locals get all excited and start to drool. Especially now, early in the season before the crowds of "people from away" come to visit. Here are some recent reopenings (hopefully this weekend's storms won't keep the patrons away):

Pancho Villa's Tex-Mex Restaurant at 116 Cottage St. (

The Colonel's in downtown Northeast Harbor

Galyn's 17 Main Street Bar Harbor

Guiness & Porcelli's 191 Main Street with Friday and Saturday night "Spring Fling" deals

Tan Turtle Tavern in Northeast Harbor

Red Sky - Southwest Harbor

Acadia National Park Loop Road Opens Sort Of

April 15th is the day the loop road typically opens but this year because of all of the spring snow we've been getting only a section of the loop road will open this weekend.

Route 66 Restaurant Reopens

A self proclaimed "A Fun Place To Eat", Route 66 Restaurant is opening for the season on April 13th. Located at 20 Cottage St in Bar Harbor, Route 66 features a fun interior decorated with toys and kitch from decades gone by.

He's One Mother Shucker!

Former Seal Cove native William "Chopper" Young recently won the 2007 Mohegan Sun Oyster Open.

Bass Harbor Lighthouse - Closed for Repair

The visitor's path on the west side of the Lighthouse will be closed from April 17 to April 20 for repairs.

Choose Your Victim - Selecting Your Lobster

Know what you are eating! For lobster identification get the above "Lobster Identification" t-shirt from

Lobster is one of the few meal choices that invites you to choose your own victim. While there are some restaurants where you can pick out your own steak, it's not like seeing the whole cow. With lobsters, you do see the whole thing. This leaves the diner with several tough decisions:

* Should you have a soft-shell or a hard-shell lobster?
* Will a large lobster be as tender as a small lobster?
* Should you choose a male or a female?
* Should you choose a green lobster or a red one?

According to David Dow, former Director of the Lobster Institute in Orono, Maine, and a lobsterman himself, "Most people in the industry prefer the new shell: the 'shedders.' Their meat is sweet, and the shells are easy to break apart." However, others claim hard-shelled lobsters are better because the meat is firmer and there is more of it than in a newly-molted lobster.

Of course, you have to expect that the shell will not be crammed full of lobster meat in a 'shedder.' Lobster dealers sometimes refer to soft-shell lobsters as "low quality". It's not that they don't taste as good, but rather that in their weakened post-molt condition, these lobsters don't transport well. So if you plan to take a Maine lobster across state lines, a hard-shell lobster travels best.

Dow also claims that large lobsters taste as good as small ones "until you get to 5 to 7 pounds. Then the meat gets kind of stringy." Advocates of tail meat recommend getting a female whose tail is broader than a male's of equal size since she uses the space to carry her eggs. The best time to buy lobsters is in the fall, after Labor Day, when all the tourists have gone home and the lobster landings are at their highest.

Because lobster meat can go bad quickly, it's generally necessary to cook a lobster while it's still alive. That means you pick a green lobster, but don't eat it until its shell turns red! Never eat a cooked lobster with its tail uncurled, as it died before it was cooked.


Note: The Bar Harbor Insider agrees that the shedder meat is sweeter and you do pay less per pound because you end up buying more water but I don't like the tips of the claws on the shedders, they tend to be mushy. Tip: If you are dining with a friend get one of each and compare but keep in mind each lobster does have its own individuality - we are not talking about mass produced chicken nuggets here!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

YMCA Bar Harbor Lobster Races

PETA hates this kind of thing but who cares its fun being at the top of the food chain!

Wednesday, July 4th, At the Ball field after the Parade
Watch local businesses put their lobsters to the test in a high-speed crustacean contest where guts and determination will reign supreme. Proceeds benefit the MDI YMCA Scholarship Program. MDI YMCA, 21 Park St., Bar Harbor.

Camping Recommendation: Quietside Campground and Cabins

The Quietside Campground is a Bar Harbor Insider recommended business:

ALL SITES have a picnic table and fire ring.

TENT SITES have a 12' X 12' wood tent platform (most sites have been updated with larger wood tent platform.) Some sites are located near the campground road; others are "walk-in" sites in a more wooded area.

LOG CAMPING CABINS sleep four (queen size and bunk bed), are located in a wooded area, and have heat, electricity, and a small refrigerator. There is no plumbing in the cabins.

WATER & ELECTRIC SITES have 30 amp service and accommodate pop-ups or small RVs up to 28 feet.

RUSTIC CABINS sleep four (queen size loft and queen size bed on main floor), they do NOT have heat, electricity or plumbing. They have a propane lantern, gas grill and screened in porch.

LARGER CAMPING CABIN has electricity. The upstairs has a queen size bed and 2 twin sized beds. This cabin features a sofa, microwave, gas fireplace, small refrigerator and gas grill. There is no plumbing, but the bathhouse is nearby.

A-FRAME CABIN accommodates 2 adults in an upstairs loft, has heat, electricity, and a small refrigerator. There is also a small futon on the first floor.

THE CAMPGROUND has a total of 37 sites. There are two full-service bathhouses with free hot showers. There is an outside toilet near the cabin area.

Call: (207) 244-5992
Write: PO Box 10, Bass Harbor, ME 04653

Ten great things to do on Mount Desert Island - UPDATED BY THE BAR HARBOR INSIDER

Mount Desert Island
Ten great things to do on Mount Desert Island.
June 2000 issue of ISLANDS magazine

1 Up With the Sun
Every day the sun's first rays touch the nation at the summit of Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park, which takes up much of Mount Desert Island. The 1,530-foot peak, the highest point on the eastern seaboard, is a mecca for sunrise enthusiasts, who congregate as early as 4 a.m. for the spectacle. Bring hot coffee and a blanket, find an east-facing niche on the stark granite slopes, and settle in to watch the predawn light slowly creep down over the forested landscape and onto a string of islands in a glimmering sea.

BHI- most tourist sleep in so you can beat the crowds by getting up early but pack a jacket! It takes awhile before the coastal effect cool mornings burn off.

2 Million-Dollar Stroll
The town of Bar Harbor once went by the name of Eden, and it was truly a paradise for the turn-of-the-century aristocrats who summered on Mount Desert. Steamboats ferried du Ponts, Vanderbilts, and Drexels from the mainland to their elegant, mansion-size "cottages." But after a 1947 inferno destroyed many lavish homes, the town languished. You can get a glimpse of the glamour days with a stroll along the Shore Path, a 3Ú4-mile gravel walkway that follows the curve of Frenchman Bay, past surviving Tudor-style mansions and their manicured gardens. At the pier, turn inland to reach the town's boutiques and galleries. Or, for a longer walk, head to the end of Bridge Street at low tide and slosh across the sandbar to Bar Island, where meadows and a fir forest await.

BHI - A great stroll. For more hikes head into Acadia National Park.

3 Horsing Around
Industrialist John D. Rockefeller Jr. may have owned Standard Oil, but when he retreated to his sprawling summer estate here, he wanted to leave automobile exhaust fumes behind. In the early 1900s he ordered the construction of a 57-mile network of gravel roads – for the exclusive use of horse-drawn carriages. Now part of Acadia National Park, these "carriage paths" wind beside tranquil ponds and over picturesque granite bridges, past pines, cedars, and maples, attracting bicyclists in summer and cross-country skiers in winter. Enjoy the millionaire's largesse with a horse-drawn carriage tour from Wildwood Stables. For a cost of $16.50 per person, you can take a two-hour ride to Day Mountain to watch the sunset or to the Jordan Pond House for tea and popovers.

BHI - Skiing is very iffy these days due to global warming and the coastal warming effect. Bikers watch your speed, you can be ticketed for driving to endanger. Heed the signs that explain the right of way and yield to less manuverable people.

4 Blueberry Fields Forever
In August and September the island's "barrens" are laden with wild blueberries. To fill a basket, try the bushes along the park's trails, including those radiating from the summit of Cadillac Mountain. Too pooped to pick? Then stop at the Sunday Farmer's Market on Main Street for a pint of blueberries and other local specialties, like strawberries, raspberries, and maple syrup.

BHI - Pick your own trail side but don't tresspass!

5 Edible Exotics
Restaurateur Michael Boland named his Main Street bar and grill Rupununi, after a river in Guyana. The exotic name complements his creative menu, which includes ostrich, buffalo burgers, and wild mushroom risotto. (For less adventurous eaters, there's also that Down East mainstay – lobster, served any way you want it.) Upstairs, the Carmen Verandah bar overlooks the Village Green, where the town band performs on Monday and Thursday evenings in summer. For more rowdy tunes, wait for nightfall, when blues, rock, or jazz bands energize Carmen's. Finish off the evening with a smoke at Boland's upscale cigar bar, also on the premises.

BHI - A long time bar and grill in Bar Harbor and its good. On a warm day sit outside on the patio and watch the tourists go by.

6 Here, Kitty, Kitty
There is nothing meek about The Cat, the sleek, black, high-speed catamaran that whisks travelers across the Bay of Fundy to Nova Scotia. What was once a six-hour-long journey now takes a mere 2 hours and 45 minutes aboard the 300-foot-long motorized vessel, which even has a gambling casino. A day trip to the Canadian fishing port of Yarmouth allows for five hours on shore to see the town's lighthouses and white-sand beaches.

BHI - The Cat has cut back its schedule. Look for info online. They no longer have daily service.

7 Thar She Blows
Each summer a teeming smorgasbord of herring and krill lures pods of whales into the Gulf of Maine, where they breach, "spyhop," and "lobtail." Humpback whales are the most acrobatic – sometimes launching their gargantuan bodies completely out of the water – but fin whales, the second-largest animal on earth, and the more diminutive minkes also give astounding performances. The gulf's skies are the domain of shearwaters, which skim the ocean surface for food, and northern gannets, known for spectacular dives. Getting a close look at the behemoths and birds requires taking a blustery 25-mile boat ride out of Bar Harbor. For the weak of stomach, the Friendship V catamaran promises the smoothest ride.

BHI - Not for those who experience sea sickness.

8 Rock On
Granite cliffs loom throughout Acadia National Park, beckoning those who love heights. Several local climbing schools offer instruction in rock climbing, from basic techniques and rope skills to scaling and rappelling. When you're ready for a challenge, grab your ropes and pitons and head for the top of Otter Cliffs, a 110-foot-high oceanfront wall within the park. The reward? A mesmerizing view of the coast and the rolling Atlantic Ocean. Beyond lies Europe.

BHI - Recent earthquakes on the island may have lossened rocks. Be careful!

9 Sweet Somethings
Tempting treats abound in Bar Harbor, but Ben and Bill's Chocolate Emporium on Main Street makes oversize indulgence irresistible. Of course, there's homemade fudge, but also peanut and macadamia nut brittles, truffles weighing in at a fifth of a pound, two-foot-long gummy snakes, and chocolate- covered everything, including not-to-be-missed chocolate-covered blueberries in season. Want more temptation? Try a waffle cone with a couple of the 64 ice cream flavors – from lobster (with real lobster chunks) to "moose droppings," a chocolate mousse taste-alike with malt balls.

BHI - I've had the lobster ice cream - once. The ice cream part is butter flavored, the lobster chucks are kind of nasty. Maybe an eskimo would enjoy biting into frozen lobster chunks. Novelity item - order it just to say you tried it.

10 Windows Into Heaven
Maine's largest collection of Tiffany stained-glass windows shines at St. Saviour's Episcopal church, built in 1878 in Bar Harbor. A noted New York surgeon donated the first colorful installation – a three-panel depiction of the resurrected Christ placed above the original altar – in 1886. Since then, members of the congregation have added additional awe-inspiring Tiffany windows and others crafted as far away as England and France. The Victorian stone church offers tours during summer, but the building is open year-round. Next door, cemetery buffs can wander the old graveyard, where the maze of tombstones memorializes the town's distinguished founders and their families.

BHI - Number one tourist attraction for the cruise ship crowd.

Best Place for Lobster On MDI

Shhh! I shouldn't be telling you this but my favorite place for lobster (besides on the beach) is Thurston's Lobster Pound in Bernard (its part of Tremont and across the harbor from Bass Harbor). Thurston's location - right on a pier jutting into Bass Harbor can't be beat for the best location on the island to enjoy lobster. Plus everything about it is authentic. You sit right over the water where the lobsters live, the view looks out on to the harbor full of the boats that catch the lobsters and Thurston's is a lobster dealer so its where the lobsters go from boat to being sold. No middlemen! From your seat watch the water for seals. If you see a head pop up that looks like a dark, wet dog head that's one of them!

Parking is limited.

Thurston's Lobster Pound Steamboat Wharf Road Bernard, Maine 04612 207-244-7600

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Jack Russell's Brewpub & Beer Garden & Crab Cakes

This place really is more of a stakehouse then "pub" but they do brew their own beer via their Maine Coast Brewing company located on the premises.

The first time my wife, son and I tried to eat here we were put off by the lack of attention from the hostess, the prices on the menu and the lack of a children's menu. We actually ended up walking out before we even ordered!

That was about a year and a half ago. As one of the only restaurants on the island that stays open year round we decided to try it again on a Saturday Night "Date Night" sans child. And I'm happy to report we had a great dinner!

We made a early reservation (not really needed in April) and found the place rather empty for the time (6 pm) but then again it was off season. I ordered the drink special, a Dark and Stormy which was fantastic. My wife ordered the Maple Martini which she has been raving about for weeks. Then we got down to business and studied the menu. I was pleasantly surprised to see options any where from $12 to $28 with plenty of choices for any budget. I settled in for a teriakyi steak kabob ($12) with a crab cake on the side (+ $8) and my wife had the rib eye. Both were cooked to prefection and the plate had ample sides.

My only complaint would be about the crab cake which was rather standard fare. More dry than I like although that seems to be the standard. I like mine with a bit more flare, like with red pepper and corn and a few sauces to add. This crab cake was rather bland. I suppose I should just give up on crab cakes. The worst one I've had on the island was at Gaylns in Bar Harbor. They usually have good food but their crab cakes are like hockey pucks. The best crab cakes in Bar Harbor can found at Rupununi, American Bar and Grill down at 119 Main St. They have the moist ones with corn, red pepper and its served with two great sauces.

Back to Jack Russell's, good food and a great bar makes the perfect combination for a nice date night. (By the way, they do now have a children's menu!)

Friday, April 6, 2007

Lobster $10 a pound and that's wholesale!

Lobstermen friends of mine have been excited lately because the seafood dealers are paying $10 and up a pound for lobster - boat price. Seems there is quite a shortage at the moment and all reserves have been used up.

But if you are headed to Bar Harbor this summer don't worry, you won't be paying $20 a pound. Typically by late spring the lobster landings go way up and the prices fall to more reasonable amounts. Expect to pay around $7 a pound at the market or $12 a pound at a restaurant with some places offering early bird deals for $15 - $17 including sides.