Things To Do


How to Dig Soft Shell Clams in Maine

Out in front of SeaCat’s Rest are untold numbers of Mya Arenaria, the soft shell clam. This is the type of clam you will get most often when you order a clam dinner anywhere in New England. These clams settle in the intertidal mud vertically, with their “necks” (siphons) extended several inches towards the surface, where they filter seawater for food. When they sense danger, like a human stepping on the ground nearby, they quickly pull in their siphons and remain securely buried in six inches or so of the fragrant mud. As they pull in, they often squirt excess water, betraying their location. But even if they don’t squirt, they leave a little hole where you know where to dig. That’s where the work comes in.

The first step is to make sure you’re legal. In Lamoine, Maine, that means getting a license. It costs a whopping $6 for residents or $12 for non-residents for a recreational license. This allows you to dig one peck per day, 2-1/2 gallons or about 150 clams. Since I usually figure 20 clams per person, that’s enough for 7 people.  The next vital step is to make sure there are no closures. A clam flat closure can be due to either pollution or red tide, and is not to be ignored. The place to go is the Maine Shellfish Hotline, 1-800-232-4733

Next you need equipment. A bucket or “hod” (a slatted tray with a handle) to hold the clams, some rubber boots and a digging tool. Here, the clam flats are not pure mud, but a mixture of mud and rocks. This makes it hard to get to the clams without damaging them, and I’ve found the best tool is a straight four-tined spading fork. Mine is made by Ames and was found at Home Depot.  The tines are placed at least six inches from the holes and pushed down all the way. If rocks are in the way, try a different spot. When down all the way, gently lever the mud up. Often you will catch a glimpse of a clam’s neck squirting water. Grab onto the neck and hold firm as you continue to flip the mud. This is your first clam.

Reject any clams under 2″ across or with broken shells–you’ll never get the grit out, and you want live clams, not dead ones. Once you have made your first hole, now it’s time to hear the digger’s secret. Flipping back the mud might get you one clam, but there are more down there and the only way to get them is to thrust your hand down and feel for them! Go back and forth across the bottom of the hole and probe for the shape of a closed clam set vertically in the mud. Rock the clam back and forth to break the mud’s suction.  Don’t worry, they don’t bite. You will pull out rocks and more mud, but with a little luck, a few more clams. Don’t forget to go over the mud already pulled out with the first spading. Beware of broken glass! Commercial clammers in Lamoine have lubricated their activities with liquor for a century or more. Some pieces of glass are therefore quite old and may be worth saving.

As your clam bucket fills up you will eventually want to rinse them. Pour out your clams onto a bed of rockweed and clean out the mud in your bucket. Pour clean seawater over the clams and return them to the bucket with clean water. Now is the time to make sure there are no dead clams, closed but filled with mud. Your clams can stay like this for hours in the shade until you’re ready to cook them. If you use tap water be sure to thoroughly mix in 1/3 cup of salt per gallon. The clean water also allows them to expel any grit they may have inside. Some people like to pour in cornmeal to give the clams something to replace the grit with in their stomachs. Once your clams get their grit out you can store them dry in the fridge for up to two days, but using sooner is better. Do not seal live clams in plastic!

In an hour or two you will probably have enough for your meal. As the tide comes up you will find holes in higher ground, up to about 80% of the tidal range. Beware, it is hard to stop once you have tasted success. Just walk away! Rinse your digging fork with fresh water to keep it from rusting, and enjoy your clam dinner. You will have saved about $3.00 for each pound of clams you have dug (price as of 10/13/11) . A pound consists of 10 or so clams, so if you dug 100 clams you just made $30!

Filed under Acadia, Good Food, Lamoine, Things To Do by on . 4 Comments.


Photo Trek to Acadia/Bar Harbor

A website called pairs up professional photographers with paying guests for treks to different parts of the world, and in September they are coming  here.  Leading this trek will be Daniel J. Cox, a veteran nature photographer and frequent contributor to National Geographic, National Wildlife and Wildlife Conservation; and Layne Kennedy, whose work has appeared in over a hundred different magazines world-wide on subjects as diverse as wolves in the Northern Hemisphere to boat builders in the Caribbean.

Even amateurs can find photographic opportunities here

Naturally, I can’t paste cool professional photos here, just one of mine, but I can link to the mentorseries website where you can read about signing up for the two day trek.  Also check out their slideshow of  Acadia photos here. Need a place to stay for your Fall photo trek? Our bookings for Fall are still as wide open as a Cadillac Mountain vista.

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A Frugal Vacation in Acadia National Park

The economy today makes  folks with a job begin to think of how they might save some money on this year’s vacation.   Those with downsized or part time jobs might want to think of vacations closer to home.   Either situation might make a vacation in Maine just right for you.  People in Maine are very careful with their money.     That means if you know where to look, you too can save much money.

Acadia’s bare granite, rounded and gouged by glaciers

There are lots of things to do here that are free or low cost.

Start with muscle-powered sports.   Hiking and walking have the dual benefit of exercise and enjoyment in and around Bar Harbor and Acadia.   The carriage trails were designed for horses, but that means they are smooth and excellent walking paths.   There are no automobiles, only bicycles, an occasional horse drawn carriage or rider on horseback and other people on the path.     The most popular path is around Eagle lake.   However, one of my favorite walks is closer to Northeast Harbor.   Park at the Upper Hadlock Pond Parking area and cross the road.   Here is a link to the map of the carriage trails.

Take advantage of the free ranger lead talks and walks.   From the visitor center you can get the schedule of talks.   Be sure and arrive a bit early, because there can be quite a crowd that gathers in July and August.   Here are descriptions of one such walk.

Otter Point Walk (2 hours; easy to moderate 2-mile hike) Daily, Tue in French. Discover stories of history and nature along the strikingly scenic Ocean Path. Gorham Mountain parking area – Park Loop Road south of Thunder Hole.or join the night sky program or the Acadia at night program, where you learn to see like the nighttime animals do.   This link to the website has the schedules.    Some programs like the sailing adventures have a cost associated with them, but the majority are free.

This area that we live in has the best of both the sea and the woods for you to enjoy in one package.  You can combine camping out and  staying at a vacation home  here at Sea Cat’s Rest.    Our rental comes with kayaks included!  If your looking for a bargain yet this year, look about 10 miles away from Mount Desert Island.   The rates are lower, and you only spend about 10 minutes more in the car.   The town names to search for are: Lamoine, Trenton, Hancock and Surry.

Bring your own bicycle and you now have doubled the distance you can go with just a twirl of your pedals.   Bicycling is actually the most efficient way to get from point A to point B, plus you can put your bike right on those Island Explorer buses when you don’t want to bike uphill.

Like to read?   Don’t forget our small local libraries.   Read the local paper for free, read Downeast Magazine for free at the library in Ellsworth.   Read a local book, get internet access free at the library in the middle of the day.  Libraries on the island are many, and I will feature them in a future blog.   I especially like the Southwest Harbor Library, right across from the school.    You can cool off on the occasional hot day by spending an hour or two in the comfy reading rooms – and all of our libraries have internet access free – free wifi or on their computers.   Places in Ellsworth that offer free internet include the local coffeeshop The Maine Grind on Main Street, the library and MacDonalds.   In addition our town office here in Lamoine is a free WiFi spot.   Our house of course has free internet for our guests too.

SAVE MORE ON MEALS – cook for yourself.   By staying in a house instead of hotel, you can cook your own great meals, perhaps treating yourself to one or two days of great fresh seafood from cold Maine waters.   We can’t think of anything better than watching the lobster boats out in front of our place, and then enjoying lobsters from your own pot for dinner.   At different times in the year you can  pick the fruit that is in season: blueberries, strawberries and apples.   If you are our guest, we share our garden bounty with our renters.   See our wild food blog for some other tasty treats.

Also for the frugal, coordinate your visit with music and art festivals.  Bar Harbor Brass Week offers free concerts at the park in Bar Harbor, or wander the free art fairs in the summer.     The Belfast Maine Celtic Festival on July 17-18 and the Bangor American Folk Festival August 27,28,29, (free – but donate what you can afford)  and The North Atlantic Blues  Festival July 10th, 11th in Rockland are some of those in our area.

Didn’t bring the right clothes to wear?  It’s cool here, cooler than most places   If you forgot that fact, you can pick up some bargains at the resale shops in the area.   Jalysa’s attic in Ellsworth on Water Street or our new Goodwill Store in Ellsworth both offer fleece jackets at under $10.00 for those colder than they expected.   Need more long pants?  They are there too.  You can also find Maine themed clothing there if you are lucky.   We locals often purchase Maine themed clothing when it is on sale in the fall, and we recycle the clothes when they get too small or we don’t find ourselves needing them any longer.

Go with a larger group.   Find a friend to stay with on the way.   Vacation where you can stay with relatives.    Going with a larger group, you can go in on lodgings and food.   It’s often cheaper to rent a larger house, and vacation with another family or group of friends.   Instead of having to bring along a friend for our daughter, we brought along another family, so that the kids had someone to do stuff with – and we had adults to hang around with.   Have Grandma and Grandpa take the grand kids (along with you) on vacation.   They are bound to help out with treats and special adventures (plus you get to share the childcare and get off by yourself for a while).    Borrow items you need for the trip.   Perhaps you can borrow bicycles, or some camping equipment instead of purchasing new items.

Trade adventures, if you live in a nice place for others to vacation, perhaps you can exchange visits with old friends.   Have friends living in New York while you’re out in the country, perhaps you can each visit each others’ destinations for a bargain vacation for both of you.

Filed under Acadia National Park, Carriage trails, Hikes, Things To Do by on .


419 Baiting, the New Internet Sport

We all get those emails from the African widow who needs our help to move $5.7 million out of her country. In the lodgings business we get a variation on that. Someone books a stay, sends a cashier’s check and then discovers they sent too much, like $3,000 by mistake, and could you please send me back the difference by Western Union? I was the victim of one of these back in 2008, but I knew it was bogus from the start and I decided to play along. The exchange of emails was lengthy and entertaining and can be read here. In the end, I refused delivery of the bogus check even though I really wanted to see the artwork. I got a call from Nigeria and was heaped with verbal abuse.

Now it seems that what I did back in ’08 is becoming a popular internet pastime and it has a name: 419 baiting. These scams are named after section 419 of the Nigerian penal code which deals with this type of scam, and the baiting is done by recipients who often go to elaborate means to lead the scammers on a merry chase.

One baiter has created a site called and has done a wonderful job of both baiting and site building. I highly recommend a visit. What makes this site so great is the lengths our baiter goes to to occupy, humiliate and reveal the stupidity of the scammer. He (or she) uses ridiculous names like Billy Clubb, Pete Moss, Potty LaTrine, Patti Kake and Ann Teaks. He goes to great lengths to give them all their own email accounts, websites, phone numbers fake I.D.s and phony addresses (usually the street address is 419 something) just to have everything in place to play the game. Apparently he’s figured out ways to do this all for free or almost free. And the most important part: no attempt is made to lure them in, he just waits for a 419 email. He never has to wait for long.

His first contact is usually something like, “I wish I could help you but I have no interest in handling your money. I manage a modeling agency and am on the lookout for underwear models.” Before you know it, the scammer is sending photos of people in their skivvies. Before long the scammer is asking for money, always sent by Western Union because this prevents the Feds from investigating (mail fraud). Our baiter makes up a phony money transfer service and creates bogus documentation showing that he sent the money. The scammer runs all over Nigeria trying to find a bank which will cash it. Amazingly, the scammer never seems to catch on and keeps coming back for more, sometimes for years. Other humorous things happen. The baiter returns calls in the middle of the night. The scammer drives to a distant city to meet the baiter’s character at the airport.  The victim falls prey to yet another scam and the first scammer tries to clue him in on the dangers of 419 scammers. Other characters come in, all with silly names and the scammers scramble to keep them all straight. Great fun.


This is a dangerous sport and there are lots of warnings on the resources page. These are real criminals and they often have accomplices in the US. You never reveal your true identity. I’m just glad there are baiters out there with enough guts to go after these creeps and glad they have chosen to share their humorous stories with the rest of us!

Filed under Lodging, Things To Do by on . 1 Comment.


Photographing Acadia

On the Great Head Trail. Family Ericaceae, Genus ?

Sometimes I find myself wanting to post professionals’ photographs to convey the beauty of Acadia National Park, but that would be stealing. That doesn’t mean my readers can’t take advantage of what I’ve found, I just can’t paste them here. Suffice to say, as a photographer, I come up short. My camera is inadequate, my technique is hit-and-miss and this webpage is supposed to conserve bandwidth to allow access to folks with dialup connections, which means my photos have to be limited to a few hundred kilobytes. So right off the bat I’m going to recommend visiting the work of Vietnamese/French/American photographer Quang-Tuan Luong. His work is stunning. He uses large format traditional cameras (remember film?) similar to the work of Ansel Adams, only in color. He has a great section on Acadia, and he was included in the documentary The National Parks, America’s Best Idea, a film by Ken Burns, 2009.

Photographing Acadia National Park could be the complete focus of a visit. Your specialty could be macro, like the flower above, telephoto for wildlife, landscape for the vistas and panoramas for the wrap-around presence. It’s easy now to download software to knit together photos into panoramas, but for the best results, bring a tripod. Tripods are a must for jiggle-free photos and panoramas require a series of individual photos with significant overlap but without up-and-down movement. The top of Cadillac Mountain is a place where panorama-making is a must.But I found that knitting photos of close water shots together doesn’t work unless the water is flat calm. The software can’t handle waves! The above was a series of photos united with a program called PanoramaPlus SE. The software compensates for stretching and exposure differences. It’s quite amazing.

Another great photography asset found in Acadia is our fog. It has a way of creating a mystical feel to your pictures. I’m no artist, but if you express your artistic side through photography, the Acadia area is a great place to create a work of art in 2011.

Filed under Acadia National Park, Arts and music, Things To Do by on . 3 Comments.


Making Cider in Lamoine

If anything in Lamoine, Maine can be called ubiquitous, it is the apple tree. Most yards have at least a couple, either on the lawn proper or somewhere along the periphery, and more than a few can also be seen along the roadside on state Highway 184, where about this time each year, they let go their holdings all over the road, to lie like billiard balls until they are squashed by passing cars or scooped up by wily crows. “Apples, apples everywhere,” as it were.

Grinding is the first step. Photo courtesy of Douglas C. Jones

Apologies to Samuel Taylor Coleridge for co-opting his “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” but after watching nearly every species of wild bird and animal in Lamoine, from gulls to crows to fox to squirrels to porcupines to deer (even Labrador Retrievers get in on the act) gorge themselves on fallen apples throughout the Autumn, a few local humans got a little jealous and decided to appropriate some of this fruit for themselves.   These are our yards, after all, where the trees have taken root.   So recently, on a cold but sunny afternoon, about 7 friends brought many bags of apples, gleaned mostly from their yards and a nearby pick-your-own apple farm, to a house on Walker Road,  where the owners are in possession of a wonderful antique Jaffrey Manufacturing Company apple press.

The pulp is pressed. Photo courtesy of Douglas C. Jones

Prior to this get-together, we were encouraged simply to “get out there in your yards and jostle with the wildlife for your rightful share of apples.   And don’t be finicky.   Pick up any variety you find, even some crab-apples.”   As a preliminary step in the manufacture of our cider, we laid our many plastic bags of apples around the Jaffrey press for easy access, because once the pressing process starts, it moves apace.     The apple press has a small hopper with a wooden lid, a top-mounted corkscrew T-Bar, and a side-mounted hand-crank wheel.     Underneath the hopper, a bucket lined with burlap is placed to receive all the discard of the grinding apparatus on the press.     A volunteer with a strong arm is placed at the grinding wheel, and after the apples are washed, they are tossed willy-nilly into the hopper.     The person at the hand crank rotates the wheel rapidly and relentlessly.   Another person holds the small hopper lid on top of the tumbling apples, all the while pressing downward to keep the apples in contact with the ruthless blades.   As the apples are forced into contact with these rotating blades by pressure from the hopper lid, they are shredded into bits and come out into the waiting burlap-lined bucket.   There are chunks, cores, stems, seeds, and the odd leaf, but not to worry, as all these elements of refuse are snagged by the burlap.   When the burlap gets full, the cranking ceases, much to the relief of the volunteer, and a circular lid is placed on top of the scrap mound.   Next, the T-bar at the top of the press is lined up directly over this lid and cranked down tightly, squeezing cider through the burlap onto a slightly inclined rectangular wooden tray with a drain hole.   Under the drain hole, a bucket is placed to receive the apple juice.

Photo courtesy of Douglas C. Jones

When the burlap-lined bucket gets full of apple parts, and no more cranking of the T-bar is productive, the cranking is ceased, and the bulging burlap is lifted out of the bucket.     The scraps can be discarded in various ways, of course, but in this case, our host had designated a small area behind his house as a compost pile.     The burlap got carried over to that pile and emptied as compost.   The burlap was then shaken out a bit and fitted back into the wooden bucket beneath the hopper.     Meanwhile, each bucket of collected apple juice was decanted through a funnel, lined with cheesecloth (the second stage of a double filtration process), into standard plastic (previously cleaned and sterilized) jugs, such as might appear full of orange or apple juice at any supermarket.  When the burlap is placed back into the bucket, more apples are tossed into the hopper, and the whole process begins anew, although the previous wheel cranker is replaced by a new volunteer with fresh shoulder muscles.   We managed to crank out several gallons of cider that afternoon, and despite its mongrel pedigree, it was quite tasty.   The cider can be drunk on the spot, of course (a good deal of it was); refrigerated to be served cold on another day; or frozen to be thawed and heated up for cider in the dead of winter.

As mentioned, the particular Jaffrey model we used on this occasion was an antique, purchased at a yard sale more than 20 years ago, but there are updated versions available for perusal at While anyone can go to their local market and buy cider, there is something to be said about enjoying the fruits of your labor and honoring a long time tradition.

Photo courtesy of Douglas C. Jones

Thanks to my neighbor for this guest post. Anyone notice how cider has suffered from the new pasteurization trend? Cider ain’t what it used to be! We have to make it ourselves! Bruce

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Hawkwatch 2010, Cadillac Mountain

Now is the time of year when visitors to Acadia National Park may find the skies filled with raptors. They migrate from the north to the south in fall, and they like to stick by the shore to be close to a resting spot. Otherwise, the ocean is their preferred highway since it offers the best chance of food and effortless flight. We’ve written before about eagles, but their migration timetable is different. Still, they will be around as usual to add to the mix. Last year, between August 19 and October 14,  rangers, volunteers and visitors counted 2,831 hawks, kestrels, eagles and falcons in the 2009 Hawkwatch. This tops the 15 year average of 2,579, and is the 4th best year.

from the National Park Service

Why get involved? Besides the fun of seeing rare birds soaring overhead in a beautiful location, participation in Hawkwatch adds to important data about population levels and helps scientists understand the status of the raptor population—if the numbers of a species are increasing, decreasing, or stable in the environment. If you participate you will learn how to tell one bird of prey from another based on silhouettes.

Don’t think that the best part of the Hawkwatch is behind us, the best single day last year (2009) was September 26. Who knows what effect our warm sunny summer will have on the migration? Park rangers will be on hand every day until October 12 from 9 AM to 2 PM, So bring a pair of binoculars, some warm clothes, lunch, a field guide…I would bring a folding chair…and join in Hawkwatch 2010 on the top of Cadillac Mountain.

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All Aboard, New Scenic Railroad Leaving Ellsworth Station

Once a popular way to get to Acadia for vacation, train service has been absent  for a quarter century. Originally starting at Brewer, the  train used to stop at Hancock Point where passengers would hop onto a steamship to take them to Bar Harbor. For the first time in over 25 years train whistles will be heard in Ellsworth, Maine.     Starting Saturday July 31, 2010  you can climb aboard for a ride.

Leaving only twice a day on weekends (on Saturday and Sunday at 10:30 and 1:30pm), who could resist a scenic 90 minute ride in a classic ca. 1916 passenger car?    It’s an experiment after all.   So if you are a train buff, come support the efforts of a group of 500+ volunteers who love trains just like you do. They call themselves The Downeast Rail Heritage Preservation Trust.

Like my brother-in-law who has much of the Colorado train system modeled in his basement, this effort is a labor of love for the local die-hard train buffs, just full scale. Rides last 90 minutes and travel to Ellsworth Falls, reverse and then to Washington Junction and back to the depot. The depot is at the site of the old one; on Maine Street just northeast of High Street. But tickets can be purchased at Cadillac Mountain Sports at 32 High Street; since the boarding platform is between the two sites, it’s best to park by the store. The ride costs $12 for adults and $8 for kids 4 to 12. For a special ride, try the caboose for $17 and $13.

Future plans call for extending the trip to Green Lake, another 10 miles. Take the trip for a chance to see Ellsworth and environs as only the rails can offer. Now and Then: Not so long ago rail travel was a real option for folks coming here for vacation. Maine Central Railroad used to offer passenger service deep into Maine’s interior. Those rails are in most cases still available for future service, though serious upgrading is necessary. Today, you can take the train from Boston’s  North Station to Portland for $24. Then you’re on your own! Plans and funding have been approved to extend service to Brunswick. Stay tuned.

Maine Central Rail map 1923

Filed under Day trips, History, off island, Things To Do by on . 6 Comments.


A Walk Among the Wealthy: Northeast Harbor, Maine

Not all worthy walkabouts are contained within the bounds of Acadia National Park. If you like to take a drive and then a walk among the “cottages” of the old moneyed elite of the East Coast then have I got a route for you.  This route is in the town of  Seal Harbor, on the east side of Somes Sound. It is a short 8 mile drive from Bar Harbor; just head south down Main Street and it will turn into Rt 3/Otter Creek Rd. You will pass famed genetics research lab Jackson Lab. When you reach the ocean again it will be Seal Harbor. Instead of following Rt. 3 at the sharp right, go straight and the road becomes Steamboat Wharf  Road. At the end is Steamboat Wharf, a nice little harbor where steamships docked in days gone by. The Rockefellers would arrived here to spend their summers at the Eyrie, their nearby cottage or later at the Anchorage, built after the Eyrie was torn down.

From Steamboat Wharf turn back for a stone’s throw and take the first right up the hill. Take the first right and that’s Cooksey Drive. Also known as The Sea Cliff Drive:

This is where you start to see the sprawling estates with separate driveways and parking for staff.  Martha Stewart lives nearby. The cool thing is that the Maine Coast Heritage Trust has carved out a bit of this area for the use of the rest of us. The Cooksey Drive Overlook is a great place to park the car and get out for a walk.  Just keep driving on Cooksey Drive for about 8/10 of a mile and on the right will be the parking lot. You can begin your walk by following the path to the shore. You will be rewarded by a dramatic clifftop view with crashing surf below. Now you know what the residents see out their windows. Beware the poison ivy underfoot! We went on a foggy day and the effect was pure Maine! Back to the parking lot and you can choose to continue on foot or by car.  Now, I’m not going to tell you to gawk at the mansions or invite yourself to tea with the Vanderbilts, but if you WERE to get invited I hope you take photos and send them to me.

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Take the Presidential Tour of Acadia

Now that the Obama family has ended their brief visit to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park, a good question is, “What did they do and where did they go?”  Flying for the first family is not nearly as exhausting as it is for the rest of us, so they hit the ground running as soon as their plane touched down at noon on Friday, July 16. They started with a bike ride on the Witch Hole Pond carriage trail in the park. Next, the obligatory trip to the top of Cadillac Mountain by motorcade. They got out and circled the top on foot like most visitors. The weather cooperated. Next stop was  to  Mount Desert Island Ice Cream in Bar Harbor, reputed to have the best.

After checking his family into their rooms at the Bar Harbor Regency Hotel, the president used his federal connections to secure a private boat tour of Frenchman Bay aboard a Park Service boat. The tour ended at the private dock of the Stewman’s Lobster Pound, where they had dinner (lobster, no doubt!). The pound is conveniently adjoining the Regency.

Bass Harbor Light in the fog

On Saturday the Obamas began their day at the nearby Bar Harbor Club for a swim or fitness session. Here they also walked the sand bar towards Bar Island. Low tide was at 9:52.  Next, they decided to visit the “quiet side” of the island. Their third  known appearance of the day was at the Claremont Hotel  in Southwest Harbor for lunch. From there they drove through the Seawall area towards Bass Harbor and the Bass Harbor Lighthouse. Here they were given a tour of the lighthouse and later took a walk on the rocky shore on the Ship Harbor Trail.

After arriving back at the hotel around 7 Barak and Michelle went out for a kid-free dinner at the Havana. Michelle had lobster thermidor and the president had saffron paella.

Now the big question is,  did the president follow our advice for the Top Ten Things to do in Acadia? Let’s review the list. We’ll put the presidential seal on the ones he did:

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