It's true: You can handle that old "loved to death" problem so that everyone wins. Just look at Maine's coastal islands.
Hundreds of them lie off the state's rugged coast, clad in birch, pine, and wildflowers. Some islands support entire towns, others a single house, many nothing but wilderness. Some are private.
In recent summers, the explosive popularity of sea-kayak touring has sent thousands of visitors into fragile island environments more suited to hosting a family of four. Sailboat and powerboat vacationers can sleep aboard, but kayakers camp.
What woodlot owner would tolerate several thousand campers a year? You can see the problem.
Yet the islands are faring so well that many landowners welcome responsible campers for free, thanks to the conservation-minded Maine Island Trail Association (www.mita.org), which helped the coast earn a decent 71 score on Traveler's Destination Stewardship Index (see www.nationalgeographic.com/traveler/scorecard/).
The key to the effort is the Maine Island Trail, a 325-mile (523-kilometer) necklace of campsites on at least 80 islands, plus mainland stops. MITA's hefty annual guide describes the sites (some open to the MITA-enlightened only) and establishes the strict leave-no-trace techniques that keep islands pristine and landowners happy.
Those techniques are startlingly thorough. The guide offers earnest instructions not only on how to pack human waste out to a mainland composting station, but on which newspaper to wrap it in. It seems the Kennebec Journal and New York Times won't do, but the Portland Press Herald has easy-to-compost inks. (I bet that factor never came up in publishers' board rooms.)
For a tour, www.maineseakayakguides.com lists responsible outfitters who'll introduce you to the joy of travel by sea kayak (no Eskimo rolling required). You'll have an intimate encounter with the Maine coast, a travel experience accented by the taste of lobster, the soft moan of a foghorn, and the scent of saltwater and pine needles. If you're a seasonal visitor with a yen to paddle, join MITA (U.S. $45). Don't forget your Press Heralds.
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