ACADIA NATIONAL PARK, Maine, U.S.A. – Thinking about North America, I have always had this image in my head of dramatic landscapes, wild forests, and moose running around in the woods. On the other side, there were the desolate red rocks of Arizona and the Grand Canyon.
Perhaps this had been influenced by the National Geographic magazines I browsed through growing up, and the national parks documentaries on TV.
There were, of course, big cities like New York and the never-ending suburbs, but a large part of my impression of America was the wilderness.
Having the opportunity to visit the Acadia National Park with fellow Youth Journalism International students in August got me really excited, as I could finally realize my dream of seeing the “wild side of America.” The park certainly struck me as a beautiful place, but this was not the only observation that I made.
Acadia is a constellation of islands populated by coniferous trees, with mountains whose summits offer great views of the national park. For many, it is a mandatory stop on the trip around coastal Maine.
However, the thing that drew my attention during the trip the most was how much Acadia was not wild, not really. There is this common conviction that national parks are areas of un-defiled wilderness, places where one can escape the constraints of the civilization. And a lot of photos that tourists take on their visits present the park this way.
Yet, when standing atop Cadillac Mountain, you cannot take out man-made features of the landscape you are seeing. There are cruise ships cutting across the water; there is the noise of engines and visitors chatting in a multitude of languages; there are the roads marking the sides of the islands, ropes marking the side of the trail, and perhaps the smell of car exhaust or coffee from the shops down in Bar Harbor.
The desire to preserve the wilderness of the coast created a whole new landscape: one tailored for the tourists instead of the wildlife.
You can tour Acadia and “experience” nature without ever leaving your car seat, as high quality roads lead all the way around Mount Desert Island. You can safely watch the waves crash inside Thunder Hole, one of the park’s features, and get the idea of the sheer force of the ocean without getting a drop of water on your skin.
Acadia is a safe place to see pretty landscapes. You may opt for the drive-thru national park experience, or you may step off the paved road and hike your way through the marked trails leading across the forests, carefully carved-out of the slopes of the island.
I really enjoyed taking in the views of Acadia, yet I must say that if you really want to find wilderness, you will not find it advertised in a brochure.
Joanna Koter is a Correspondent with Youth Journalism International.