The Wild Bunch Hits Acadia
Eyes in the Skies
How Green Is Montville?
The Matinicus Shopping List
Maine's Dead Zones
Rummage by the TonnageA Summer's Garden Party
There are days that become little legends in the history of a summer.
Signposts. Each of us placing ourselves where we were
the night the moon came out after weeks of rain,
when the misty meadows were lit with fireflies
tracing streams of light.
There was the day the double rainbows dipped into the ocean,
and the day in town when people heard music
coming out of the trees,
and they went searching for it.
The piano was on my back deck, graced with lilies.
Our friends dressed in summer's elegance, and
Mary Anne's hands were liquid silver over the keys.
When she sang an aria from the Marriage of Figaro,
her arms extended out, sewing through the branches
into the calm, cloud-scalloped sky of early evening.
One woman remembered shouting bravo at La Scala,
and the men remembered the woman they'd always loved.
—Elizabeth GarberWild BunchATVs are ripping up Acadia.
As much as Acadia National Park enjoys the millions of visitors who cross the causeway to Mount Desert Island each year, one small group is definitely not welcome. Park officials are trying to figure out a way to deal with a small band of all-terrain vehicle (ATV) riders who seem determined to do as much damage as possible in some of the park's wildest areas.
ATVs are not legally allowed in the park, but rangers have found evidence of them, especially around Southwest Harbor, for several years. Until recently, though, the riders mostly restricted themselves to established trails and carriage roads.
"This past year ATVs have hit a new level of destructiveness," explains park ranger Neal Labrie. "They're purposely riding over trees and brush. Their trails cross twenty-six archeological sites and eleven wetland areas. ATVs have become a major tool for damage in the park." Labrie estimates there are at least twenty-six miles of illegal trails in the park now, and "half of them are being continually used and damaged by ATVs."
Labrie emphasizes that the vandals "are a very small percentage of ATV users." He estimates no more than ten or so problem riders are causing the vast bulk of the problem. Of the several who have been caught in the act, most have been teenagers, but Labrie notes that recently a couple of ATVers in their thirties were nabbed tearing up the park.
The park doesn't have an ATV-mounted enforcement patrol, so catching problem riders is difficult. But Labrie has had some success using the park maintenance staff's ATV as a decoy. "You just park by a trail and wait for someone to come by," he says. "Usually they'll stop to talk." Pursuit is not an option. "That just puts us and them at a much higher level of danger," he explains.
Labrie fears that rogue ATV riders will be a continuing problem as the vehicles become more popular. He is planning an education program for the local schools, and he hopes to enlist a local ATV club to spread the message. "The machines can do a significant amount of damage in a very short time," he notes. "We have to do something."Eyes in the SkiesReady or not, radio traffic reports come to Maine.
They may lack the excitement of a helicopter hovering over a gridlocked eight-lane freeway, but radio reports of traffic conditions in Maine have become a regular part of many drive-time news reports these days. The five stations of the Portland Radio Group started the trend some two years ago, and this past April, Clear Channel Radio's seventeen stations in central and eastern Maine began reporting about traffic tie-ups.
Of course, this being Maine, the announcers' main challenge is to come up with different ways of saying "no problem here." "There are some parts of the day when nothing is going on," allows Larry Julius, market manager for Clear Channel's stations in Maine. Julius admits he was skeptical about the need for traffic reports at first. Then he did his due diligence with the Maine Department of Transportation [MDOT]. "Every fourteen seconds there's an accident somewhere in Maine," he says. "Thirty-three percent of the roads are in poor shape, resulting in a long construction season and lots of delays. And Mainers commute an average of forty-five minutes each day."
Jeff Wade, program and news director at WGAN/WZAN for the Portland Radio group in southern Maine, says he draws information from a variety of sources for the daily reports, including MDOT reports, scanners monitoring police and emergency services frequencies, and Web cams. And in a time when every third driver seems to be talking on a cellphone, "we get calls all the time from people in their cars reporting accidents and traffic jams," Wade explains.
"We had the problems caused by a train derailment outside Bangor on our traffic report before the news agencies picked it up," Julius adds. "The repairs to the bridge in downtown Augusta kept people busy for a while, too."
Most of Maine is now covered by traffic reports on one radio station or another — with one exception. "We don't have any stations in Aroostook County," Julius notes.Greener than Green"Better safe than sorry" might just be Montville's new motto.
Last spring Montville, a Waldo County hamlet west of Belfast, became the first Maine community to take steps toward banning so-called genetically modified organisms — those plants whose DNA is reconfigured to make them more resistant to insects and certain chemicals. Kai George, a retired schoolteacher, raised the issue at Montville's town meeting, arguing that pollen blown from genetically altered plants could contaminate organic farms and other all-natural growers. "My concern came from the food that children are eating today," says George, who fears that genetically engineered food might have long-term health impacts (no negative effects of GMOs have been proven, yet many European communities oppose them). She says her goal was to get Montville to approve a resolution similar to one passed in Brooklin last year that simply expressed opposition to GMOs. She was surprised, however, when local gardener Diana George Chapin amended her proposal with wording that would put an outright ban on GMOs into the town's forthcoming Comprehensive Plan.
"I'm not a political activist, but this is an issue that's been troubling me for a while and when I saw it on our town's warrant it just seemed like an appropriate forum to discuss it," says Chapin, who runs the Heirloom Garden of Maine in Montville. "There are a lot of unknowns about genetically modified crops, and I don't think there's been enough research to determine their safety."
Apparently the hundred or so people in attendance at the March meeting agreed with Chapin and George. The ban must still be approved by the state and Montville residents before it becomes law. If passed, the proposed measure will be the first such absolute ban in Maine. "The real trick for us will be coming up with the teeth — what will be the penalties for violating this," George explains.
In the end, genetically modified food may well turn out to be safe, but you can't blame the folks in Montville for planting seeds of caution.To Market, To MarketPeople on Matinicus have developed a unique grocery-delivery system.
Out on Matinicus, Maine's most remote inhabited island, you might think folks subsist on the fish they haul from the sea or the crops they coax from the rocky soil. But islanders also appreciate more conventional supermarket fare like hamburgers, Cheerios, and Budweiser, all brought over from the mainland in one of the most unusual delivery systems in the country.
About once a week islanders call or fax in their provisions order to Judy Robinson at the Shaw's supermarket in Rockland, who then loads up several sturdy banana boxes and hands them off to Kevin Waters, a pilot and owner of Penobscot Island Air. Waters makes two scheduled flights daily out to Matinicus to deliver the mail, and says he always has room for islanders' milk and eggs. Shaw's, which has provided the service for more than a decade, tacks on a fee of $8.45 for the first hundred dollars worth of groceries (larger orders are less expensive). Waters charges another eight bucks for each box of food, but islanders say the convenience is well worth it. "The trip to the mainland and back is the better part of a hundred dollars," explains Paul Murray. "Matinicus hasn't had a store for five or six years now, so this service is pretty helpful. And Judy knows peoples' preferences, so if something is on sale she'll call out and see if we want it."
Murray says the heavier, less perishable items like flour and heavy canned goods usually come out on the Maine state ferry, an often turbulent, more than two-hour-long voyage that reaches the island only four times a month during the comparatively busy summer (in winter, islanders might only see the ferry once a month). So for most everything else, islanders have learned to rely on the careful coordination between grocer and pilot. "Ice cream is a challenge in the summer, but it's really just a matter of picking a day when the weather is really good so we know it'll travel," says Murray. "It may be a little soft when it gets here, but we just whack it right back in the freezer."Dead ZonesFor cell-phone users, Maine can sometimes be a wasteland.
Stephen Ward, chief of Maine's Public Advocate Office, figured he'd hear from a few people when word got out that he was putting together a map of cell-phone dead zones around Maine. That was in February 2005. That was also more than two thousand phone calls and e-mails ago.
"It appears we struck a nerve," Ward notes dryly of the "I Can't Hear You Now" campaign. Inspired by Governor John Baldacci's pledge in his 2005 State of the State address to promote cell-phone coverage throughout Maine, Ward wanted to find out where Mainers weren't getting a mobile signal. The exercise "has given consumers an opportunity to vent," he notes. "There is a lot of discontent among Mainers who picked up a cell phone at a kiosk in the mall and believed the assurances that it would work anywhere."
Ward cautions that the map, available at http://megisims.state.me.us/website/wireless_dz/viewer.htm
is a collection of complaints over the past fourteen months and shouldn't be taken as a snapshot of current conditions. Still, he was surprised to learn that "problems aren't limited to Wytopitlock and Jackman. Interstate 95 from Kittery to Brunswick has a lot of dead zones," he notes. The lack of coverage between Brunswick and Augusta is legendary among frequent travelers.
Besides convenience, Ward adds, "there's a public safety aspect to all of this. Pay phones are disappearing all over Maine, so people are relying on their cell phones to provide a level of security. A dead zone is no joke if you're a battered woman being pursued by your abuser or an emergency medical technician trying to coordinate with the fire department."
If nothing else, the map has shamed cellular companies into giving more attention to improving the infrastructure in Maine. "U.S. Cellular and Unicell have made significant investments in western Maine," Ward points out. "T-Mobile and Verizon also expanded their coverage areas." Glad to hear it.