July 16, 2010— -- President Obama and his family are once again vacationing in a national park, this year choosing a quiet corner of America that for generations has served as a summer retreat for families with last names like Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, Morgan, Carnegie and Astor.
The first family is spending the next three days on Mount Desert Island in northern Maine, home to Acadia National Park and some of the most incredible scenery in the Northeast.
The president's itinerary hasn't been made public, but he is said to be staying at Holiday Inn's Bar Harbor Regency Hotel -- the Secret Service has blocked off surrounding streets -- and will probably take some time to explore the national park's 125 miles of hiking trails and 45 miles of carriage roads.
But the real highlight is likely to be a sunrise trip up 1,532-foot Cadillac Mountain. (The spot happens to be the place where nearly three years ago then-first daughter Jenna Bush got engaged. )
It's the tallest peak in the park and one of the first places in America to be hit by the sun's rays.
"There's something incredibly powerful and rejuvenating about that," said documentarian Ken Burns who did a six-part series The National Parks: America's Best Idea.
Just before the national broadcast of his documentary in September, Burns and his family joined the Obamas at the White House for a private screening. Burns showed a highlights hour of the show, including scenes where past presidents had been involved in the parks' creation, preservation and growth.
"He understood that the parks resonated in a way," Burns said. "He spoke very movingly about the trip that he took" as a child to the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone.
Last summer, the president recreated that trip with his daughters, although instead of riding a bus, they took Air Force One.
Obama Visits Acadia National Park
This summer's trip to Acadia and Bar Harbor is likely to be a bit more relaxed. Instead of the grand sweeping vistas that the western parks are known for, Acadia is a more serene, quiet spot. It doesn't draw the same crowds and is known for its rugged coast and dense forest.
Almost everybody in the 5,000-person town is talking about the Obamas' visit. Local news reports say that many residents hope to line Route 3 as the president's motorcade comes onto the island. Like other presidential vacations, there will be flight restrictions, and tour operators who offer scenic flights are upset about the loss of business after short notice of the visit.
Obama is the first sitting president in a century to vacation in the area, making his trip almost 100 years to day after William Howard Taft. Only two other sitting presidents have visited: Chester Arthur in 1882 and Benjamin Harrison in 1889.
If Obama wants a break from the natural beauty, he might want to consider a round of golf at the Kebo Valley Golf Club. It was founded in 1888 and is eighth oldest golf club in the United States. Taft played a round there during his visit and was reported to have ended the day with a score of 100.
While Acadia was a turn-of-the-century playground for the rich and famous, it was those same affluent people who led to the creation of the park and preservation of the land.
"This park is unusual. Rather than being carved out of existing federal land, this is land donated by some of the richest people in the country to the United States of America -- rich people who had it as their own special, elite summer enclave," said Burns, who is currently traveling the country visiting parks of a different sort, ballparks, for his upcoming documentary "The Tenth Inning," a new chapter of his 1994 "Baseball."
Acadia National Park Offers 'Ever-Changing Landscape'
Acadia is a three-and-a-half-hours' drive northeast of Portland, is connected to the mainland by a causeway. It was established as a national park in 1916.
Burns said that while the national parks have "spectacular natural scenery," they offer so much more.
"Usually what brings us to a national park is that we're out of normal routine," he said. "We get to see our parents and our siblings in different light. It really leaves an indelible mark on our memories."
Besides Cadillac Mountain, Burns recommends that the Obamas visit the Jordan Pond House Restaurant, known for its popovers and lemonade, Thunder Hole at the eastern edge of the park and the carriage roads created by John D. Rockefeller Jr.
"They are unprecedented in a national park," he said. "They are wonder of architecture, of thoughtful planning. They pass by waterfalls and around trees. I think the president and his family will have a great time exploring that."
Ardrianna McLane grew up in the area, went to college at nearby College of the Atlantic and, after a few years away, returned to work as a ranger at Acadia.
"This is place where I think there is something for everyone. It's an ever-changing landscape where you have this connection between the ocean and the forest," McLane said.
Among her favorite spots in the park: the Jesup Path, which leads into town through connecting paths; the Sieur de Monts, the oldest section of the park; and the carriage paths.
"There are small, less visited places where you can hike through the forest and feel like you are the only one in Acadia," she said. "The park is so diverse. The trails wind around different vistas and you feel like you are really escaping."
"Remember," she added. "Acadia is the French word for `heaven of Earth' and I think it's no accident that the name has stuck."