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When a government shutdown trips you up

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Greg Peck
October 22, 2013

My wife, Cheryl, and I planned our New England vacation last winter, long before the idea of a possible government shutdown loomed. When gridlock in Washington finally led to this month's 16-day shutdown, it landed smack in the middle of our trip. For me, I considered our plans for a two-day jaunt into Maine's popular Acadia National Park a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Before we left, Congressman Paul Ryan of Janesville told me not to fret about our plans to visit Acadia. He assured me that Republicans would offer separate legislation to reopen the national parks and that it would pass because he could see no reason anyone would oppose it. Of course, Democrats rejected it.

Cheryl and I had been vacationing most of a week before reaching our hotel on the fringe of Bar Harbor, just outside Acadia. On the way, we read a newspaper photo caption of a hotel sign saying, “Congress, you suck,” and spotted a campground sign that read, “Looking for a campsite? Government evictions accepted here.”

Our hotel's clerk wasn't advising guests to risk venturing into national park property. “You'd be trespassing,” she said. She did, however, note that the park's Bar Island is uninhabited and not patrolled because many visitors often walked across a sandbar during low tide each day to hike around the island.

We enjoyed a lobster meal at Thurston's at Bass Harbor our first evening on the massive island that includes Acadia, and then drove to the other end of the harbor to see the lighthouse. We didn't realize Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse sits on national parkland. Lots of people were parking along a road to the lighthouse, however, and walking past a roadblock indicating the park was closed. So we joined them.

When we reached the lighthouse, we discovered that well over 100 people were assembled on the rocks, positioned with cameras to catch what turned out to be an immaculate sunset—the orange orb emerging from under cloud cover just before disappearing below the watery horizon. We had a nice chat with a young Madison couple who showed us stunning photos they got after an early-morning walk to Jordan Pond in Acadia. Returning to our car, we encountered no federal workers.

The next day, Cheryl and I joined the many people strolling that sandbar to Bar Island and hiking to a nice, photographic vantage point overlooking Bar Harbor. Emboldened, I later asked our desk clerk about the idea of hiking to Jordan Pond. She didn't recommend it and noted that one hotel guest had received a $100 fine and court summons for trespassing in the national park.

Cheryl and I sort of abandoned the idea. On our last morning there before moving on, we agreed to visit the three remaining harbors—all outside the park—on the island's south side. Our first stop was Seal Harbor. I took a couple of photos and then chatted with people getting ready for a bike ride. Some of them were from Wisconsin, and they planned to pedal up a “closed” road to Jordan Pond, more than two miles away. Inspired, I asked Cheryl if she was ready for a hike that long.

She was game, so we stepped past the barricades and headed up the quiet road—but not before making sure Cheryl had her lifetime senior national park visitors pass in her pocket. We thought it might come in handy should a government worker stop us. We saw only a few bicyclists and other hikers along the way.

Just past the visitors center on the south end of Jordan Pond, we photographed the double mountain humps reflecting in the pond. As we started back down the road toward our car, a park employee in an SUV pulled out of a ranger station. The driver obviously spotted us, then turned and drove the other way, passing another pair of hikers without stopping.

We reached our car without incident. When visiting Bar Harbor, we had heard that the few employees still on patrol were targeting bus drivers who were dumping off loads of visitors for treks into Acadia. And we figured those workers were more likely to fine visitors engaged in riskier hikes, such as a climb up Cadillac Mountain.

I'd have loved to enjoy a close encounter with Cadillac Mountain. I wish we could have freely roamed Acadia without hesitation or pause. Still, I don't feel guilty for “breaching security,” and trespassing three times despite the park being closed.

Given the same circumstances, what would you have done?

Greg Peck can be reached at (608) 755-8278 or gpeck@gazettextra.com. Or follow him on Twitter or Facebook.



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