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Happy birthday Acadia!

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National park to mark centennial in July

MOUNT DESERT ISLAND One of the biggest, brightest jewels of the Maine outdoors is on the verge of celebrating a very big birthday.

2016 is the year of Acadia National Park's centennial. That's right on July 8, the oldest national park east of the Mississippi turns 100 years old.

Of course, the celebration has already started part of a yearlong tribute to one of the nation's most beloved national parks. Scores of businesses, non-profit organizations and individuals designated Acadia Centennial Partners, or ACPs have contributed, each celebrating their own individual Acadia connection.

One of the opportunities presented by milestones such as this is the chance to consider Acadia's origins. Despite the fact that it sits right in our own backyard, some people may not know the story of how the park came to be.

(Note: This is a VERY basic primer on some aspects of Acadia's origins. If you're interested in learning more, a visit to acadiacentennial2016.org will have plenty to teach you and plenty of directions in which to point you to find out even more.)

Through the efforts of George B. Dorr known by many as 'the father of Acadia National Park' and Harvard's then-president Charles W. Eliot, the park was established in 1916 by President Woodrow Wilson.

However, it wasn't always called Acadia. At its establishment, the park was named Sieur de Monts National Monument. Then, in 1919, it became Lafayette National Park (named in honor of noted American Revolutionary figure the Marquis de Lafayette). It wasn't until January of 1929 that it was given the name that it bears to this day.

The park's early years were supported in large part by philanthropist (and part-time MDI resident) John D. Rockefeller, Jr. he was responsible for the finance, design and construction of the park's trademark carriage roads, as well as leading the restoration efforts in the aftermath of the Fire of 1947.

Since 1986, much of the efforts benefiting the park have been led by the organization Friends of Acadia. Among other accomplishments, the group helped establish an endowment that will maintain the trail system in perpetuity.

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As for the present, there's still a whole lot of excitement to be had with the centennial celebration. Jack Russell, co-chair of the Acadia Centennial, was kind enough to answer some of our questions about upcoming events. The park has a deep, significant and very personal meaning to Russell a connection born of many years.

'I was born and raised on MDI and have known the park as long as I have known myself,' Russell said. 'While I lived and worked away for 50 years, I always came home in summer and I always knew where home was.'

That devotion to his home has led to a more direct investment in the well-being of the park

'Since 2009 I have served on the board of Friends of Acadia and I am currently entrusted with the honor and responsibility of co-chairing, with Cookie Horner, the Acadia Centennial Task Force. When 2016 ends, I will return to writing my book of essays, Acadian Passages.''

Bringing together an event like this certainly doesn't happen overnight. Russell has been one of a multitude working toward the centennial for a number of years.

'Serious planning for the Acadia Centennial began in 2012, so some folks have been working for four years,' he said. 'Many Acadia Centennial Partners (ACPs) were engaged three years ago but some have joined just this month. A roster of the more than 400 ACPs can be found on the Acadia Centennial Website.

'The two anchor organizations supporting and helping to organize the centennial have been, of course, the Acadia National Park staff, and Friends of Acadia, the 30-year-old organization dedicated to the health of our beloved park,' he continued. 'Fifteen local, regional and national corporations have become Acadia Centennial Signature Sponsors, each contributing at least $10,000 in value to help enable our yearlong celebration.'

(More information about the Signature Sponsors can also be found at the website.)

Any effort to detail everything that has happened and will happen in the course of the celebration would be a fool's errand; suffice it to say, it's a full calendar one whose specifics can be determined with a visit to the Acadia Centennial website.

'The Acadia Centennial is a yearlong celebration,' said Russell. 'Many of the more than 400 Acadia Centennial Partners are producing events that express the bond felt with Acadia by their non-profit or business or in their own work as an artist.'

According to Russell, these events will include such varied offerings as discussions and lectures, gallery and museum exhibits, concerts and plays, hikes, art walks, boat trips, dedications, readings, stargazing, scientific presentations and historical tours.

'All that love of Acadia can inspire,' he said.

As for just how many people will ultimately participate in the centennial celebration, Russell delighted in the fact that while there may be no way to know the specific number, there's no doubt that in a general sense, that number will almost certainly be a big one.

'There is, really, no way to know which is perhaps part of the achievement,' he said. 'If one wanted to build the count and include the Fenway crowd on June 19 [when the Red Sox hosted Acadia Day] and all those who will visit the park in 2016 and those who may be connected virtually via social media, it is certain that several million people will take part.'

That number might seem shocking, but the truth is that the celebration is truly a yearlong one; events started back in January and are running throughout the rest of the year. The scope becomes clear when Russell starts to relate just a few of his own personal highlights.

'Some have already happened the great kickoff baked bean supper on January 25th, the first Bar Harbor Art Walk on June 3rd, the recent openings of Designing Acadia' at the Maine Historical Society in Portland and Acadia: The Best Classroom' at the George B. Dorr Museum of Natural History at the College of the Atlantic,' he said. '[Events like] Park Science Day at Sieur de Monts and the Bar Harbor Brass Week Concert at The Criterion.

'Looking down calendar,' he went on, 'I personally eagerly anticipate the Friends of Acadia Annual meeting on July 8th, Acadian Authors Night at COA on July 19th, the Windjammer parade on Somes Sound on August 2nd, my own lecture (The CCC Contribution to Acadia') at the Claremont Hotel on August 11th, the annual Sunbeam Awards Night of the Maine Sea Coast Mission on August 19th, the Commemoration of the Great Fire of 1947 at JAX on October 23rd and, certainly, our grand finale on December 10th at The Criterion when we will dedicate the Acadia Bicentennial Time Capsule.'

Bear in mind this is just a single man's list of anticipated events. There are dozens more happening, both in immediate proximity to the actual date and spread out across the coming weeks and months.

It's clear that Acadia National Park has had a huge impact on the lives of people near and far. The sort of love and passion that the park inspires, the sort of love and passion that results in massive birthday celebrations, is present in not just the hundreds of volunteers devoted to bringing off the Acadia Centennial, but the thousands more who will join the party.

It's the sort of passion that rings clear when you ask Jack Russell about why this celebration is important.

'To show the world how the people of these surrounding communities love and support Acadia. To celebrate 100 years of successful conservation the achievement of five generations. To inspire the next generation of stewards who will care for Acadia. To realize the full potential of Acadia as a source for science to help the world. To affirm that among the most important things we do together is tend and experience our commons, the extraordinary place we own and protect, together.'

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Thanks to the hardworking and passionate efforts of Jack Russell, the Friends of Acadia and the many other individuals and organizations of like-minded devotion to the well-being of our state's only national park, future generations can look forward to celebrating when another century has passed.

Happy birthday, Acadia. The people of Maine are lucky to have known you.

(For more information about the Acadia Centennial and the associated events, visit their website at www.acadiacentennial2016.org.)

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