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Why Bar Harbor, ME, Is a Best Small Town

Bar Harbor, Maine's scenery, amenities and charm make it a best small town

By Kari Kynard Ridge on June 1, 2015

Originally called “Eden†when it was established in 1796, Bar Harbor, Maine, has lived up to that name with its quintessential New England character, stunning rocky coastline and nearby Acadia National Park. Today, the town weaves those features with the best of what U.S. towns have to offer, making it a clear candidate for our Top 100 Best Small Towns index. 

“Bar Harbor stands out as a place with an exceptional quality of life,†says Alf Anderson, Events and Development associate with the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce. “Residents enjoy great schools, amenities and services all set against the backdrop of the most picturesque scenery you will find anywhere.”

Enjoying What’s Outside

Local residents are passionate about getting outside and enjoying and preserving their landscape. Bar Harbor’s amenities include Acadia, one of the most popular national parks in the nation. The 48,000-acre park offers a coastline, forests to explore, Cadillac Mountain – the tallest mountain on the U.S. Atlantic coast – and activities that include hiking, bicycling and camping.

Smaller town parks offer ocean views and places to enjoy a cone from one of several downtown ice cream shops, where you can even find lobster ice cream. The Village Green is the hub of town and hosts summer concerts, art shows and winter activities. Bar Harbor is home to two farmers markets, and the Abbe Museum has opened a new facility downtown to teach about the culture and history of Maine’s Native people, the Wabanaki. Anderson says Bar Harbor has long been known as an artists’ haven, and the town is home to several art galleries, the ArtWaves member-supported arts center and the Bar Harbor Fine Arts Festival.

Education for All

“Some of the best public and private schools in the state can be found in Bar Harbor,†Anderson says.

Schools in Bar Harbor are highly valued by parents and city leaders. There are nine schools in the Mount Desert Island Regional School System, including Mount Desert Island High School, which has an enrollment of about 570 students. The “green†College of the Atlantic provides an ecological, problem-solving approach to education, and offers a bachelor’s degree and a graduate degree in human ecology. And for Bar Harbor residents, education is not just for the young. The Acadia Senior College provides courses and activities for people over the age of 50.

Healthy Living

Bar Harbor earned top scores for health care in our ranking, demonstrating that healthy living is important to local residents, and the health-care industry is a major employer for the area.

Mount Desert Island Hospital is a 25-bed critical access hospital providing a range of inpatient and outpatient services. Among other Bar Harbor health-care facilities, the hospital operates nine facilities in nearby communities and runs Birch Bay Retirement Village.

A mile from downtown, The Jackson Laboratory researches many human diseases and disorders. Nearly 1,300 people work at the laboratory’s headquarters, making it one of the area’s largest employers. The Mount Desert Biological Laboratory opened in 1914 as a nonprofit scientific and educational institution, and today attracts leading scientists from throughout the world.

“Even though Bar Harbor is a small town, we have a vibrant health-care industry,†Anderson says.

“Residents enjoy great schools, amenities and services all set against the backdrop of the most picturesque scenery you will find anywhere.”

Alf Anderson
Events and Development Associate, Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce

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