Andrea Lepcio

In a wooded area, a woman holding a clipboard rests her elbow on the shoulder of a man standing beside her
Playwright Andrea Lepcio and actor Austin O'Goffa exchange notes between performances in July 2019 of "What Do We See? What Do We Do?" a site-based play along the Compass Harbor Trail that makes use of the life and home of park founder George Dorr to explore issues surrounding climate change.

Photo by Joseph Philipson, Friends of Acadia, NPS

 
Andrea Lepcio
Andrea Lepcio

Andrea Lepcio is best known for Looking for the Pony, a finalist for the Dramatists Guild Hull-Warriner Award and for the NEA Outstanding New American Play Award. It was presented in a "Rolling World Premiere" Off-Broadway at Vital Theatre Company in New York and Synchronicity Theatre in Atlanta and subsequent productions. Since moving to Maine in 2015, she has enjoyed six regional productions across the United States. Andrea is a member of the Dramatists Guild, was a Dramatists Guild Fellow and served as the Dramatists Guild Fellows Program Director for ten years. She teaches at College of the Atlantic and the Dramatists Guild Institute. She earned an M.F.A. in Dramatic Writing from Carnegie Mellon University, and a B.A. Human Ecology, College of the Atlantic.Visit her website, www.andrealepcio.com

 

What Do We See? What Do We Do?


Hello. Welcome. How you doing? Glad you came. We’re going to divide into two groups and then, don’t worry, we’ll all gather together at the end to talk. Ten people will follow Austin first. And then the other ten will follow me.

Begin:

Our plan for today is to take a walk and have a talk around Compass Harbor. We’ll be on a fairly smooth path, but good shoes are desirable. There will be roots underfoot to step over. A typical Acadia path. We’ll walk at an easy pace designed to take in our surroundings and my words. As we walk through the woods to the shore we’ll see standing and fallen trees, native and invasive plants, perhaps some squirrels, hopefully a few birds. We’ve been seeing fewer birds. We’ll come down to the shore and see where George Dorr built his own ocean swimming pool out of granite rock and where erosion has shifted the landscape. After, we’ll gather together at the ruins of George Dorr’s home – Oldfarm - to share your thoughts and vote on the future. You heard me right, we’re going to vote on what we think the future will look like.

Welcome to Acadia’s Second Century. The first was brought to you by George Dorr. I think we’re responsible for the second.

According to Yuval Noah Harari, humans have the distinct ability to create fiction. We appear to be the only species who believes in things that do not exist. We can convince ourselves of anything.

But what do our eyes tell us. Do they tell us something different than our imagination? Are we going to believe our imagination, what we’re told, what we hope or what we see?

Nick Fisichelli, Forest Ecology Director at Schoodic, told me Acadia is at the extreme edge of historical climate conditions now.

George Dorr first came to the island with his family in 1868 when he was 15. They arrived by steamboat to Southwest Harbor. The Western side of the island was more developed at the time. Bar Harbor was rural farmland. Development has reversed over the last 100 or so years with the East the more developed side now. Likely it is where you have spent most of your time. If you get a chance, head on over to what we call the Quietside.

George and his family traveled by stagecoach from Southwest Harbor over 16 miles of rough road and long steep hills to Eden. Imagine an island not yet visited by 3.5 million people. An island of farmers and fishermen, loggers and quarriers. George fell in love with every inch, scrambling up mountains, striding across meadows, drinking from springs, and swimming in the ice-cold waters. His parents bought hundreds of acres on Frenchman’s Bay at Compass Harbor where we walk. They built Oldfarm in 1878 when George was 25. Oldfarm - no space between the d and the lowercase f. The Park took the cottage down in the 40s, but that’s another story.

George Dorr saved Mount Desert Island. What will you do to save the earth?

In the winter, we see more water collecting on lawns than ever before freezing, melting and freezing again.

The same lawns in the summer are dry, under drought conditions, grass turns brown, growth is slow, irrigation needed.

What do we see? At home? At work? In your town? On the highway traveling to Maine? What do you see in Acadia? Changes from your last visit? Fewer birds? Where are the birds? Any around right now as we speak? Nests? Songs?

At Acadia, we see and feel change:

  • Later fall frosts

  • Earlier spring frosts

  • Warmer temperatures overall

  • Changing precipitation patterns

    • Drought in summer

    • More frequent and intense rains in winter

    • Elevated storm surge

    • Damage to carriage roads and culverts

    • Overall, five inches more rain than we used to get

  • Longer-lasting heat waves

  • Longer growing seasons – not everything is bad

  • Reduced snowpack

  • Plants leafing and blooming earlier causing a ripple effect of changes. Pollinators not there when pollination needed

  • Higher sea levels

  • Loss of plant species at the same time that new species move here

  • More invasive plants and forest insects

  • More poison ivy – actually a native plant – but it likes warmer weather and is spreading

  • Warmer seas.

  • Birds migrating earlier; those that are flexible doing better than those that are less flexible – ain’t that true for all of us.

Climate folks talk about the world getting 2 degrees Celsius warmer. That’s the danger. If it doesn’t sound like a lot – yeah, 0 Celsius is 32 Fahrenheit, but the math is wacky. 2 degrees Celsius is near 4 degrees Fahrenheit. When it is 84 degrees, do you care if it rises to 88 degrees. You bet you do. 2 degrees. 4 degrees. That is what we’re trying to stop.

My older friends tell me when they dipped into the Atlantic 40 years ago, they would be coming out of the water as they were going in, it was that cold. Today, my friends are moved to tears every time they step into the ocean. George Dorr swam every day in freezing cold waters. Till January, they say. Today the ocean is notably warmer than 100 years ago, 2 degrees Celsius.

What do we see? What do we feel?

And all these changes bring more you. More visitors during peak season, longer and longer length of season every year, more visitors off season, more cruise ships avoiding tropical storms. What is the carbon load of your visit to Acadia?

Though his family had participated in the development of the island, George noted how the growth of “Cottages” was eating up his precious island landscape. He began to purchase parcels of land with the aim of preservation. He was moved to create paths for his Mother to enjoy their glorious island. She liked to do this new thing called bicycling. He wrote “The earth is our common heritage. It is both right and needful that it should be kept widely free in the portions that the homes of men, industry, and agriculture do not claim.”

What might you say today?

Puffins, Artic Terns and Eiders stop, rest and refuel on hundreds of islands off the coast as they migrate north. As sea level rises, these islands will shrink. There will be less habitat to support these seabirds, less places of rest. Where will they go? North? Are we all going to go North?

Now George didn’t do everything right. He loved to garden and he and his mother were attached to the plants they grew back home in Boston. George and his Mom planted several invasive species at Oldfarm. Invasive means non-native and tending to overgrow and crowd out native plants. Managing these invasives is the bulk of what Park rangers do on site today.

Winds come to Acadia from the South-West. Bad news for us. All the pollution created in the industrial centers to the south rides up I-95 along with you to Acadia National Park. Air quality can deteriorate quickly. It is constantly monitored by Park Rangers.

For trees, there will, weirdly, be winners and losers from climate change.
Climate change makes life better for

Elm,
Black Oak,
Shagbark Hickory,
White Oak,
and Yellow Poplar.


Climate change makes life worse for

Beech,
Mountain Ash,
Balsam Fir,
Black Ash,
Black Spruce,
Mountain Maple,
Northern White Cedar,
and Red Spruce.


What do you notice here? More deciduous than coniferous trees? Trees that shed their leaves in the fall versus those that stay green all year. As Acadia warms, more of the park will look like this. We are seeing the future. A part of it.

When George was 48, his mother died leaving him considerable wealth. His father had died a few years earlier. That same year, he received a letter from Charles Eliot - who happens to be the grandfather of a friend of mine. Charles wanted to get people together to talk about preserving the island. Interested parties gathered at a meeting where the Hancock County Trustees of Public Reservations was formed. This was the spark that created Acadia National Park.

This is fascinating to research and painful to write. Could we really lose the earth? George Dorr feared we could lose Mount Desert Island and went to work. Spent his fortune. Died with nothing, left a National treasure.

Knowing human nature, it is easy to imagine a mansion atop Cadillac Mountain if such action had not been taken. Perhaps in the middle of the Great Meadow. There are plenty of buildings now that block ocean and other views. Can you imagine this island without Acadia National Park? Human nature is all you need to know. Where would you build a home if you could?

Red Spruce is abundant. In every photo you will take here, likely there is a spruce. It is doing okay so far. But it is projected to be a loser. This is not the first time Red Spruce has been threatened. Acid rain was very bad for Red Spruce, the Clean Air Act made a big difference. We have created and solved problems in the past. We still have somewhat crappy air – thank you Southwesterly winds, thank you I-95, thank you industry. But the Clean Air Act helped. We can solve problems.

If the Spruce trees go, so might Spruce Grouse, Black Backed Woodpeckers, and American Three-Toed Woodpeckers. Already we have more Turkey Vultures, Turkeys, and Cardinals than in the past. Climate change will migrate insects, plants, birds, animals, trees, and people.

Dorr was delighted when quickly, two gifts were made: a hilltop overlooking Jordan Pond and a cliff on Cooksey Drive in Seal Harbor. Five years past before the Bowl and Beehive were added. Mrs. Charles Homans – as a woman of the day would have been known – had purchased the coastal site with the intention of building a home. See, there you go. Thankfully, she made this gift to all of us.

White Pine is the State tree of Maine. And, as luck would have it, it is projected to be a winner though it’s still struggling with needle disease and pathogens. Ash is projected to do well, but Emerald Ash bore is causing mortality in the East. Have you read the warning not to bring any firewood with you when you camp? You could easily bring the emerald ash bore or another pest if you do. These warnings are serious, dire. Plenty of fire wood for sale here.

There are more bugs surviving warmer winters, reproducing better, making more generations that evolve faster, overwhelming the defenses of trees. We won’t even talk about the ticks. More hardy ticks year-round. More Lyme disease. Ugh.

Encouraged by the early donations, Dorr began work on acquiring Cadillac – then Green – Mountain. He found it was owned by the Brewer family who had run the hotel at the summit and Cog Railway. The hotel had burned down in 1895 and the Cog Railway had been moved to Mount Washington. Dorr succeeded in acquiring the mountain.

We all know about the wildfires in the west, we are not immune. A third of the island burned in the fire of 1947. At the fire station in Somesville, there’s a sign indicating the fire danger of the day from low to moderate to high. If you make a fire outside, be sure you can control it. If you smoke, make extra sure you have extinguished your cigarette. It is far too easy to start a forest fire. And you know what Smokey Bear says. Did you know he is really called Smokey Bear, not Smokey the Bear? Smokey says “Only you can prevent forest fires.”

Sieur de Mont was Dorr’s next objective. There was commercial interest in the Spring, but the parties involved, fortunately, didn’t have the money to proceed. Dorr acquired an option on the property – at $5,000 it was pricey. Suddenly, one day, a friend rushed to find him to report that there was a group in town who had raised the money to purchase the property. The owner was giving Dorr until noon to take action. This was in the days when travel was by horse and buggy. By the time the friend found Dorr, it was quarter to noon. Dorr urged him to hurry back to town to make the purchase. The friend raced his horses arriving just in time. Hot words were exchanged, but Sieur de Mont was saved.

When cars were first invented and available, they were banned on the island. The ban lasted until 1915. Fortunately for us, they remain banned on the carriage roads even though they were built by Rockefeller of Standard Oil. Things can always be worse. Things can always be better. People can do bad things. People can do good things.

Seasons are out of whack. Things bloom at different times which affects insects, songbirds, everything. Propagation missed. Things not as they have been, should be.

Where are the songbirds? There are so many fewer. We miss their song.

George’s next tract was the granite block at Otter Creek Gorge on the western side of what was then Picket Mountain, now known as Huguenot Head including the ravine leading to Cadillac. Sometimes he used his own money, other times he asked friends. For this purchase, he received funds from two sisters who loved to hike these mountains.

We have four seasons in Maine. We love our four seasons even as we complain about snow in April. Winter is getting warmer even though you were cold last winter. Summer is getting longer – from 32 weeks to 34 weeks to ... Our growing season is longer; bigger vegetables on an endangered planet.

We see.

Next George added some of his own land, inherited from his father, between Picket Mountain and Champlain. But he wanted Picket Mountain and Champlain to go with it. The owners held it strictly for lumber. He asked a friend for the funds. The friend promised, and then fell ill, declaring at his deathbed that he had promised the funds to George. The money came through.

Climate change will bring more visitors. Based on historical data, temperature explains 93 percent of visits. I mean, of course, Cadillac, and hiking and biking, and tremendous views, lakes, streams, ocean are why you are here. But what days you choose, temperature predicts. You come when it is warm, you don’t come when it is cold. I traipse down Cottage Street alone mid-February. As climate warms, we expect:

  • Up to a 50 percent increase in annual visits. We are now at about 3.5 so that brings it up to 5.3 million. Been in a traffic jam since you got here? Searched for parking? Can you imagine that many more people atop Cadillac?

  • 35 percent increase in peak season visits

  • More than 50 percent increase in shoulder season visits – Spring and Fall

  • 100 percent increase in winter visits.


More warm. More you.

George next saved Eagle Lake. Already the lake supplied water to the town. But someone had made plans to build a home on the eastern shore. The construction was started in late fall when most summer residents would have departed. The Board of the Water Company asked Dorr to get involved. Driven by concern first for safety and sanitation of the water supply along with his goal of preserving land for future generations, Dorr took steps to protect both Eagle Lake and Jordan Pond. With the help of a friendly gentleman who owned Jordan Mountain, the amphitheater, the south slope of Sargent Mountain and the land in front of Jordan Pond. Isn’t it amazing to hear that someone owned these precious spots? Their descendants still would, likely be living where the Jordon Pond house is now, if Dorr hadn’t used his considerable charm and warm friendships to create Acadia.

Gore called it an inconvenient truth. You know what’s inconvenient, it’s happening in our lifetimes. And our kids. And their kids. My dog is experiencing climate change. Climate change is now.

Dorr was at home in Boston in January of 1913 when he got a disturbing phone call. A group had gotten together in Bar Harbor to introduce a bill in the State Legislature to annul the charter of the Trustees of Public Reservations. Dorr rushed to get on the next train to Augusta. Dorr found John Peters of Ellsworth who happened to be the Speaker of the House. He worked with Dorr to alert other members of the challenge. They were successful in turning down the opposition’s bill, but Dorr realized the group was on shaky ground. He decided then to pursue creating a National Park.

On Cadillac, the ferns, shrubs, grasses, and flowers are competing with visitors’ feet for survival. Have you ever wandered off trail? Over 1 and ½ miles of unofficial paths disrupt plant growth. There is delicious diversity atop Cadillac - 145 species – underfoot. Look out and stay on the designated paths. Please. Thank you.

Yellowstone had been the first national park created in 1872. By 1913, there were a total of eight parks, none east of the Mississippi. Mr. Dorr went to Washington – this would make a good movie. He chose to arrive as President Woodrow Wilson was being inaugurated – then on March 4th. It is fortunate for us that Dorr was a sociable type. He describes dinner after dinner after event after gathering as he made his way among Washington Society setting the stage for his request. As he explained in his memoir: “I made a stay of some length in Washington, interested in the scenes, getting in touch with people, and learning from one and another what was going on politically beneath the surface.”

Acidic waters threaten the food sources of Harlequin ducks and other birds. Mollusks and crustaceans may disappear as the sea gets more acidic. We currently have the largest population of such ducks in Eastern North America. Can we save them?

We did save Peregrine falcons. So far. They were severally hurt by DDT and other environmental pollutants. Became nearly extinct by mid-20th century. The Clean Air Act and other efforts helped. It took till 1991 for the first successful nest. Now there are over 100,000 falcons worldwide. Still threatened, but back from the brink of extinction. We can see and take action. We can see. And we can act.

Dorr returned to Washington in the Spring of 1914 with deeds, maps, and abstracts of title to submit to the Government. There was no Park Service at the time. Yellowstone was under the War Department. Dorr brought an ornithologist with him who could argue for the protection of sea and land birdlife. They went first to the Public Lands Commission where they were warned that there were too many bills in Congress for the establishment of National Parks many with the request for appropriations for political gain. They were concerned if the Mount Desert lands were offered in the same bill – even though Dorr asked for no appropriations – that it would be shut down. This same gentleman recommended the use of the National Monuments Act which gave the President power to accept any tract “of exceptional historic, prehistoric, scientific, or scenic interest.” The Public Lands Commission took their time – Dorr confesses his impatience – and finally returned with the request for additional land to enable the tract to be bounded by a single line. Dorr coordinated with Charles Eliot and plans were made to acquire the needed parcels. And then war broke out.

We might notice the warmth more in the summer, but, in fact, winter temperatures have increased the most. Average winter temperatures are 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit higher than at the turn of the 20th century. That is likely why we’ll get more and more winter visitors.

As the war fought on, Dorr worked to secure the remaining land. It took two years before he felt ready to return to Washington in the Spring of 1916. The Public Lands Commission now satisfied, the offer was made to the President. Dorr chose to name the proposed monument Sieur De Monts. Days and weeks passed spurring Dorr, not a man to wait around, to make his own appointment with President Wilson. Privilege does have its advantages. The conversation seemed to go well, Dorr extended an invitation to Oldfarm to President and Mrs. Wilson, but then Mrs. Wilson warned him the President felt he couldn’t legally sign the Proclamation. Dorr went to the Interior Department and learned that the Forestry Service was interfering. Dorr rushed over to an acquaintance at the Forestry Service and received that man’s approval. But more time passed without word. It was summer and very hot in Washington. Dorr would have far preferred to be home in Bar Harbor, but he made his way through the hot town to try to learn what the problem was. A new opponent had appeared at the Department of Agriculture. More maneuvering was required to remove this last obstacle. To encourage accord, Dorr agreed to take care of the lands without appropriation and to serve as Custodian for a dollar a month. I told you he died broke. Finally, the gentleman at the Department of Agriculture removed his objection and President Wilson signed the Proclamation on July 8,1916. Dorr kept on in his efforts to acquire more land.

Did you know that trees can migrate? Kernels dispersed by wind, birds, and animals. But in the populated Northeast with high density and crowded land use, their ability to migrate will be impeded. The losers from climate change might survive if they successfully migrate Northward. The winds might help. Some might be saved. Or, could we make enough change ourselves so that Spruce and other precious trees thrive here.

As I claimed, Dorr’s adventures in Washington would make a great movie. We don’t have time today to indulge in every intriguing detail. But I must share his afternoon with Teddy Roosevelt. Dorr was gathering letters of support for an initial appropriation. Spending was scarce because of the ongoing war. Dorr decided to ask none other than the former President for his endorsement. “What can I do to help?” was Roosevelt’s response. Roosevelt followed through writing

“It is our one eastern national park and gives for the first time to the crowded eastern city population of the country the opportunity to share directly and immediately in the benefits of our national park system.”


Here you are sharing directly and immediately as President Roosevelt wished and predicted. The Monument received $10,000, despite the war. The appropriation added the acknowledgement that the Mount Desert lands should be a National Park. Dorr first intended to call it Mount Desert National Park, but there was the usual confusion over was it a pile of sand or something to eat after dinner. Dorr tried explaining the old French meaning of uninhabited by man. One of his senate friends suggested Lafayette. Thus, the Park was first named Lafayette National Park. The war, meanwhile, came to an end as Dorr worked to secure the President’s signature on the bill. There were many steps and more time than Dorr desired, but finally President Wilson signed the bill on February 26, 1919.

So we see change and we worry about more change? Will the change be enough to ruin our vacations? Our homes? Our places of work?

Dorr’s beach won’t be here after storm surges and rising sea levels reach the island’s edge.

Can we do anything? Are we powerless to the actions of Exxon, the President, the United Nations, or can we act? If we act, what should we do? We each are one of seven billion. We are not powerless. Let’s talk about your ideas when we all gather together.

It is a fun footnote to note that Layfette Park became Acadia with the acquisition of the Schoodic Peninsula. The land had been owned by folks from England who didn’t want their lands given to a park named for a Frenchman who had help win the American Revolution. Dorr took another bill to Congress to add Schoodic and renamed the park Acadia.

Welcome everybody together. We’re standing on the ruins of Oldfarm. The Park felt it didn’t have the funds to maintain the building in the 1940s. We believe a different decision would have been made today. But, this is what we have left today.

Acadia National Park rangers have developed four scenarios of what might happen over the next 25 years. Again, this is the inconvenience of our own lifetimes, not just our kids.

We’d like to ask you to listen. And then pick the scenario you think is the most likely. This is our vote for the future. I feel we’ll learn from each other’s responses.

Future #1 they termed - Middle of the Roller Coaster

Middle of the Roller Coaster is characterized by lots of year-to-year variability with temperatures up about 2 degrees Fahrenheit. Lots of change: hot and cold, wet and dry.


Future #2 Bigger Boat. Yeah, that’s a Jaws quote: “We’re going to need a bigger boat.”

It is definitely 2 degrees warmer Fahrenheit. And wetter. Increased storminess resulting in coastal and inland flooding in the Park. Runoff, erosion, sedimentation, pollutants in streams, windthrow, endangered species, unstable seabird nesting islands. More indoor and car-based visitation in the rain, more trail and campground closures, more ticks, more emergencies. Historical roads, trails and archeological sites erode. Historic structures flood. Piers and docks damaged by storm surge, road washout. Increased public awareness of climate change.


Future #3 Sizzlin’ Summer, Floodin’ Fall

Now we get the full 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Hell, let’s round up to 4. If this happens, we lost the battle. Summer drought. Fall and winter floods. Fires. High tree mortality. Invasive exotics and diseases wipe out native plants. Vernal pool breeding amphibians out of luck. Yet lots of visitors for longer despite extreme weather events causing frequent closures. Congestion and crowding. Storm surge hurts Thunder Hole. Historic roadways damaged. Carriage road flooding, culverts washed out. Change, change, nothing but change, none for the good. Maybe you can’t drive onto the island. Greater public acceptance and an increase in policies late late,very late. Climate change migration. Maybe it is cooler here than further south. Maybe our population expands. Can anyone fish? Are there lobster rolls?


Future #4 - Calm Before the Warm

Temperatures stay kind of where they are. But sea levels rise and warming becomes more rapid as time goes on. More visitation earlier in the Spring since the Park is cooler than much of the rest of the country. Visitors flock to waterways and ponds, but Sand Beach will be smaller. Roads on shoreline washed away more frequently. Low lying roads and trails compromised. But there are still climate skeptics. It’s not bad enough. Room for doubt.


Let’s vote with our feet. All who think we will most likely face Middle of the Roller Coaster? Step over here.

All those anticipating Bigger Boat? Stand here.

Those expecting Sizzlin Summer, come here.

And, finally, those predicting Calm Before the Warm? Stand here.

There are no right or wrong answers.

Are you surprised by the voting results?

Which scenario did you think would “win”?

Now that you voted, does anyone want to change their mind? Let’s take a moment for any reshuffling.

Okay, now which scenario wins?

What if we make changes? Can we make enough changes to improve the result?

Ideas:

  • Make buildings smarter about heating and cooling

  • Make everything more energy efficient – that is worth maybe ½ a degree Celsius.

  • Make use of solar and wind.

  • Improve window insulation

  • Transition from carbon to electric cars – but watch source of electricity

  • Bike

  • Walk

  • Refill water bottles

  • Make public transportation green

  • Add rooftop gardens and green spaces

  • Ban plastics

  • Manage waste smarter

  • Try EPA’s Household Carbon Footprint

  • Carpool. Combine trips

  • Hang your clothes to dry

  • Energy efficient light bulbs

  • Don’t waste food

  • Eat less meat

  • Drive more efficiently. Follow speed limits, don’t accelerate up to`` the red light, don’t break on hills.

  • Divest from fossil fuels

  • Consume less

  • Buy less

  • Use less

  • Vote

Again, no right or wrong answers.

What else are you thinking?

We may not all agree. That’s good. There is always a third better idea.

Abraham Lincoln said: The best way to predict your future is to create it.

 

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Last updated: February 22, 2020

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