Living Off Maine’s Coast Part Two: The Cranberry Isles

Morgan Sturdivant

Updated 5 months ago

The trip to the Cranberry Isles starts by catching a ride on the mail boat that leaves from Northeast Harbor.

The mail boat makes multiple trips between Northeast Harbor and the different islands.

One is Great Cranberry, where only about 50 people live year round. Polly Bunker is one of them.

“I’ve been here for 86 years. I’d like to think for 86 more,” said Bunker.

She owns the Whale’s Rib. She’s opened the gift shop for summer tourists for 43 years now.

“You have to learn to live on an island. And, it comes to you, every now and then, that you are on an island,” said Bunker.

“We live very much by the weather, and the boat schedules, and the water,” said Phil Whitney, a resident of Great Cranberry.

Whitney lives in his grandparent’s house with his wife, Karen. His family was one of the original three to settle here in the 1700′s.

“I would say living out here is a very relaxing, laid-back experience, most of the time. You have relatively few people. It’s a small town, Americana-type of lifestyle,” said Whitney.

“You really feel that everything you do, you put that footprint on the island for the people living there, and I think that’s very satisfying,” said his wife, Karen.

They both wear several hats in town. One is president of Cranberry Isles Realty Trust. They provide affordable housing on Great Cranberry and neighboring Islesford.

“We are trying to allow opportunities for people who could not afford the high prices of real estate out here, have a chance to live out here on the island,” said Whitney.

New to the island, Becca and Tom Powell will be providing year-round spiritual support on both Great Cranberry and Islesford.

“I kind of provide continuity. It’s been a long time since there’s been a resident minister who’s lived on either island,” said Tom Powell, the new minister.

“We think island living is very unique. Not just coastal living, but in particular, island living, and we think it’s a great place to raise kids, so we chose it,” said Ingrid Gaither, a Great Cranberry resident.

Many on the island would like to see the school open back up.  K through 8 students take the ferry to school on Islesford.

It’s quick ride.

Also known as Little Cranberry, Islesford’s population is about 60.

The Ashley Bryan School is named for the illustrator, author, and artist who’s known around the world.

He also lives on Islesford.   Although he’s in his early 90′s, his enthusiasm for life, art, and the island is infectious.

“I don’t think anyone could live without art. I mean, if you come on this island, you’re not aware of the gift of nature, you’re missing the art. That’s the aesthetic in each one of us,” said Bryan.

Art is a big part of the school named for Bryan.

“It’s pretty modern, we use a lot of technology, and we have iPads for each student,” said Lauren Simmons.

They also use telecommunications to connect students with other island teachers.

One of the most striking things about Islesford is the view back on MDI.

Lobstering is also a big economic factor here.

“It’s the lynch pin that sort if holds it all together. You take lobsters away for us, if we go back to half of what we’re catching now, we may have to find out just how important it is, but that’ll happen someday, but, not right now,” said David Thomas, a lobsterman on Isleford.

While there are big differences between the two islands, one thing is the same.

“Its a great living for certain types of people. It’s not for everybody, and we have to find those people who really can enjoy living out here, and make a living at the same time,” said Whitney.


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