ACADIA NATIONAL PARK — Buoyed by several recent gifts, the advocacy group Friends of Acadia says it has surpassed the $1 million mark in its donations to Acadia National Park.
The event is a “landmark” for the 12-year-old group, said president Kent Olson, and proof the group has evolved into a vital source of help for the popular park.
“It’s a tribute to our members, donors, volunteers, board of directors and trustees that Friends of Acadia has grown in just a few years into a significant force for good in and around Acadia,” Olson said.
After starting out as a small band of park enthusiasts that gave mostly small contributions to the park, Friends today is 3,000 members strong with more than 60 percent of its membership outside of the state.
The group now gives Acadia several thousand dollars in direct donations each year. In 1998 alone, Friends predicts it will raise $450,000 for the park. Acadia’s annual operating budget is $4 million.
Park Superintendent Paul Haertel said park officials are grateful to the Bar Harbor-based nonprofit for its generosity.
“We are deeply appreciative of our relationship with Friends of Acadia and the support FOA has given to the park financially and through volunteerism and public advocacy,” Haertel said.
Friends of Acadia is one of 140 “friends” groups in the country that give financial support to individual national parks and monuments. The group is somewhat unique, Olson said, in that it also has raised a $6 million endowment, which helps it to keep on giving.
One of the group’s largest financial contributions is based on an agreement with the National Park Service to maintain Acadia’s 44 miles of carriage roads.
Under a pact the parties signed several years ago, the National Park Service agreed to finance a $4 million renovation and reconstruction of the carriage roads, if Friends came up with a $4 million endowment from which to fund the roads’ maintenance in perpetuity. Today, the endowment has grown to $5 million and the carriage road reconstruction is nearly complete, Olson said.
Friends’ other contributions include donating two wheelchair-accessible carriages, trail signs, funding 34 summer staff and giving $30,000 to develop an islandwide transportation system to cut down on car traffic in the park. The group also runs Acadia Youth Conservation Corp, a group of 16 summer students who carry out spruce-up projects under the direction of park personnel.
Friends also has lobbied on behalf of the park and recently pushed to extend the ban on personal watercraft devices to 10 park lakes. There is also a national effort to ban the devices from all national parks.
Having reached the $1 million mark, the advocacy group has set a lofty new goal for itself, Olson said. The goal is to find a single individual or family willing to donate $10 million to fix up Acadia’s 100-plus miles of hiking and trails.
Half of the donation would be used to restore the trails to historical and ecological standards, and half would be used to maintain them, he said.