‘Carriages of Acadia’ new venture for former Maine Attorney General

15 years ago
By Karen Donato
Staff Writer

    Houlton attorney Michael Carpenter has always been a horse lover. Growing up on a farm on the B Road his father dug potatoes using a horse to haul the digger through the fields. Carpenter will now share his love with tourists going to Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island.

    Since 1989 Carpenter and his wife Joanne have traveled from Houlton to Acadia National Park to enjoy horse-drawn carriage rides. The rides took them down the roads that are part of a 50-mile carriage road system on Mount Desert Island. Restricted access to this area began early in the 20th century when Harvard University President Charles Eliot, conservationist George B. Dorr and others began a private effort to protect scenic MDI.
    In 1910 young John D. Rockefeller, Jr. purchased a summer home at Seal Harbor and began a life-long association with what was to become Acadia National Park.
    It was Rockefeller’s dream to build elaborate carriage roads with impressive granite bridges to forever provide to horse-drawn carriages, access to what he considered to be some of the most beautiful views on earth.
    Carpenter said, “We took our first ride one fall and since then we have gone back every year.”
    Little did they know that one day they would be operating the business themselves. During the last 20 years they had come to know the previous owner quite well, but it was quite by accident that Carpenter learned that the contract was open for bids. Carpenter had gathered some literature to read while on a trip to Louisiana with his daughter Emily. It was in one of the publications that he read about the Carriages of Acadia’s contract expiring in 2008. Carpenter did a lot of research and spent hundreds of hours putting his proposal together for the March 31, 2008 deadline.
    “When I finished it, I drove to Bar Harbor and hand delivered it,” said Carpenter.
    He and his family waited through the spring and summer, not hearing a word until October. It was an exciting day when he opened the envelope to learn that his proposal had been accepted and it has been a lot of work to prepare for the June opening.
    Carpenter and his daughter, Emily who will be managing the office started taking reservations in January. He likened the opening for reservations at the park to staking a claim to hike or camp at Mount Katahdin where people camp out to be first in line to secure a reservation. In Bar Harbor, people trailer their own horses from far and near to ride the trails on their own, spending just a day or two or maybe a month. Carpenter said he booked half of his stall space in the first 30 days and took many reservations for the rides including honeymooners looking for a fairytale memory.
    He will have 20 of his own horses and eight to 10 carriages.  Customers can choose either a one-hour or two-hour ride from the six daily scheduled rides along the side of Day Mountain offered. There are no motorized vehicles allowed, only hikers, bikers or horses.
    Carpenter graduated from Houlton High School in 1965 and received a bachelor of science degree from the University of Maine in 1969. He entered the United States Army after college serving in Viet Nam and was discharged with the rank of captain in 1973. Upon his return to Houlton he ran for a position in the State of Maine Legislature, serving in the House of Representatives from 1974-76, and then from 1976-86 as a Maine State Senator. He received his law degree from the University of Maine School of Law in 1983. Carpenter served as Maine’s Attorney General from 1990-94.
    In 1995 Carpenter opened his law office in Houlton where he plans to continue to practice. He has a well-seasoned staff overseeing the day-to-day carriage ride operation, but will undoubtedly be making the trek to the coast several times this summer where he hopes to see familiar faces from The County.


Contributed photoImage
    HOULTON’S MIKE CARPENTER and his daughter, Emily, take a visiting guest on a carriage ride through Acadia National Park. Carpenter acquired the contract for the business that opened for the season in early June.