By Lauren Abbate – July 18, 2015
If the winds are blowing southeast, as they were Tuesday morning, chances are that when the Laura B. leaves Port Clyde Harbor on its daily 7 a.m. summer freight run to Monhegan Island, the vessel is leaving in a sheet of fog, according to its deckhands. As the boat pulls away from the dock, the space between fills with the morning mist and sight of the shore instantly is lost.
It’s an 11.9-mile trip from Port Clyde to Monhegan Island — one hour and 15 minutes on the Laura B, Monhegan Boat Line’s mail boat. However, the trip through weather conditions reminiscent of “The Twilight Zone” could have taken passengers anywhere, and upon arriving on Monhegan’s dock it’s hard to determine exactly where you’ve landed.
With only dirt roads and a handful of ramshackle trucks to move people and supplies, the 4.5-square-mile island seems tropical, with its laid-back mode of functioning. The island is home to 45 year-round residents, most of whom make their living from the sea. The island’s K-8 school has an expected total enrollment of five students for the 2015-2016 school year. And with no island option for high school, teenage residents are forced to move to the mainland to attend high school, making it difficult for the island to maintain a consistent year-round population.
“We’ve certainly been on the edge of sustainability as a community for a long time,” Jackie Boegel, a year-round resident on Monhegan since 1977, said.
But there are two things that provide Monhegan Island with a sense of security in its future as a viable island community. The summer influx of residents is one of them. Between the three inns on the island and privately owned summer cottages, the island has accommodations for up to 500 people. According to Town Assessor Tara Hire, that capacity is almost reached during peak summer months of July and August.
For many Americans, trips to the post office are being replaced with scrolls through the email inbox, but for island communities such as Monhegan, having access to a post office is critical to sustaining a year-round community and serves as a village community center.
For an island that only recently acquired DSL Internet capability, reliance on the U.S. Postal Service isn’t a nostalgic notion. It is a necessary service for individuals and businesses alike, allowing them to maintain financial, communication and resource connections with the mainland.
“The post office means security for the year-round population, in the sense that we have our lifeline to the mainland,” year-round Hire said. “It’s also a social piece, especially in the winter, when sometimes you have no reason to leave the house except to go get your mail. So you’re like, ‘Oh, it’s a big event’ — go get your mail and maybe you’ll see someone and you’ll chat about the day and what’s going on. It’s nice. It’s really nice.” …
Because of Monhegan’s seclusion, the USPS has said it would be very unlikely for Postal Service to the island to be discontinued entirely. Between 2012 and 2013, the Monhegan post office and nine other island post offices lost their full-time operating status, becoming “part-time” offices, open for only six hours a day Monday through Friday and four hours Saturday. This USPS decision was made to cut costs at these lower volume postal offices and to give the islands a sense of security in the future of their post office by not closing them altogether.
Despite the insistence on the part of USPS that closure of the office is unlikely, Hire says “it feels like there’s a threat of losing [the post office] all the time.”