For Obamas, a vacation on island that’s seen it all

Maine town, long an A-list enclave, unfazed by visit

Nicole Bennett put up a welcome message for the Obamas outside a business yesterday in Trenton, Maine. Nicole Bennett put up a welcome message for the Obamas outside a business yesterday in Trenton, Maine. (Photos By Fred Field for The Boston Globe)
By David Filipov
Globe Staff / July 16, 2010

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BAR HARBOR, Maine — Residents of this Down East retreat of granite mountains, fragrant forests, and fog-veiled ocean inlets prefer to respect the privacy of its many well-heeled residents and visitors. And they take pride in not losing their heads over the A-list celebrities who shop their stores, dine in their restaurants, and hike their trails.

So when President Obama arrives on Mount Desert Island today for a weekend family vacation, he can expect a reception as cool as the light salt breeze that wafts over Frenchman’s Bay. And that should suit Obama just fine. The president guards his family’s privacy jealously during personal down time. No public events are scheduled; the White House has said only that the Obamas will be spending a lot of time outdoors and doing some hiking.

Local residents and business owners are reacting to the visit with the reserve Mainers are famous for. No Obama banners will festoon the streets of Bar Harbor, the largest of the island’s four towns. Restaurants on Main Street are not selling Obama burgers. Gift shops are not flogging Obama bobblehead dolls. Yesterday, only a few storefronts advertised the president’s visit in any way. One, Cool as a Moose, had a small display that featured a few “Yes We Can’’ refrigerator magnets framing pictures of the First Couple dressed in the kind of summer wear on sale in the store.

A presidential visit means lots of attention, which is good for business, but being in the limelight is no big deal, said Dave Paine, owner of Jordan’s Restaurant in Bar Harbor.

“We’re used to it,’’ said Paine said as he tended to a grill full of home fries and his signature blueberry pancakes. “I think outsiders are making a bigger deal of it.’’

But if this presidential family and this island 3 1/2 hours north of Portland were made for each other, some of the other people who chose to spend their vacations here are worried that the Obamas’ quest for peace and quiet — and the closed roads, security checkpoints and other restrictions that come with a presidential visit — might put a damper on their own retreats.

“We’ve only got one week of vacation,’’ said Clarissa Fleming, who drove nine hours with her husband, John, from their New Jersey home to dine on Paine’s blueberry pancakes. “I would be happy if it did not get ruined.’’

The last sitting president to visit the island was William Howard Taft, who infamously shot a 27 on a single hole at the Kebo Valley Golf Club in 1911; now locals are wondering if Obama might play a round there.

Or maybe the Obamas will eat at the Jordan Pond House restaurant and take in the pond-front view of the spectacular sheer face of Penobscot Mountain. Laura Bush dined here quietly two years ago, blending in with the hundreds of visitors who line up daily to sample the restaurant’s famed popovers.

Perhaps the Obamas might stop by the Bar Harbor Hemporium, where actors Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon bought hemp paper and where John Malkovich has shopped for beads?

“We don’t know if it is going to be good for business or scare people away,’’ said Jenny King, the store manager.

“I think it would be awesome if the president came, as long as he didn’t shut down the store.’’

David Donovan, a park ranger who shows visitors sweet fern, blueberries, huckleberries, and other flora on his Green Kingdom tour, is hoping that Michelle Obama would join one of his walks.

“Because she’s a gardener, I thought she might like it,’’ he said.

Locals are used to rubbing elbows with the rich and famous and not thinking much about it. Mount Desert lore has it that one bakery owner refused an invitation to appear on the television show of island resident Martha Stewart rather than share her blueberry pie recipe with a national audience.

But even if Mount Desert Island locals take the rich and famous in stride, some visitors from afar are hoping to get a close look at the president.

“I would tell him he’s better than Bush,’’ said Dmitry Krasyukov of Volgograd, Russia, who was walking Main Street Wednesday night with his country’s white-blue-and red tricolor draped around his shoulders. “He is not likely to act against Russia.’’

Isabelle Demers, a Red Sox fan who lives in Quebec City, said if she had the chance, she would ask Obama to help her get tickets to Fenway Park.

“Maybe I can go to a baseball game with him,’’ she said.

Still, others see the visit as a presidential nuisance. Some fear that Wi-Fi will be turned off on the island; by yesterday evening, that had not happened.

Some fear road closings will wreak havoc in the already crowded tourist attractions of downtown.

“I think I’d rather be out of the way before the commotion starts,’’ said Joe Hood of Girard, Ohio, as he and his wife, Bonnie, watched from shore as the red sails of the four-masted schooner Margaret Todd disappeared into a fog bank.

Lodgers at the Bar Harbor Regency Hotel, where the Obamas are reportedly staying, fear that they might have to give up their bay-view rooms.

Management refused to comment, but Don Strayer of Holland, Ohio, said he and his wife had reserved a view of the water, but got “an excellent view of a ravine.’’

“We are sort of disappointed,’’ said Virginia Strayer.

Then she closed her eyes and inhaled.

“I love that ocean smell,’’ she said. “I love it here. I am very happy.’’

David Filipov can be reached at

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