Approaching the mainland from the Cranberry Isles, one of the great long views of the Maine coast rises up from the shore to greet you. The tonsured peaks of Mount Desert Island beckon you to their contemplative abbeys. But if you’re a Cranberry islander without a contracted parking space in Northeast Harbor, often you can’t get there from here.

Like Chebeague Islanders in Casco Bay, or Monhegan Islanders or, to a lesser degree, residents of Isle au Haut, parking on the mainland has become a recurring nightmare. So much so that the small town of Cran-berry Isles voted this past December to raise up to $2.4 million in local tax dollars to buy and develop an expensive piece of real estate on the Southwest Harbor waterfront for the purpose of securing additional parking and mainland access for islanders.

A reasonable person might logically wonder whether the Cranberry Islanders are out of their minds. Two million four hundred thousand big ones, (if not offset by private fund raising and public grants), could raise property taxes by an average of 30 percent for both year-round and seasonal residents. Such an increase could tip the balance, especially on Great Cranberry (one of two year-round islands that comprise the town of Cranberry Isles) that is desperately struggling to hang onto its year-round population. So why, you might wonder, would islanders risk their community for the 137 parking spaces the new site will provide?

I attended a ribbon cutting at the Cranberries’ new mainland site last month where islanders tried to answer that question. One theme kept recurring in the remarks of the island speakers. If you see the 3.14-acre Southwest Harbor property solely as a parking lot, you are missing the point. Islanders keep emphasizing that this parcel is the key to their future as a viable year-round community.

All islands are intimately connected with the mainland towns that serve as the terminus for their ferries, mail boats and private vessels. Portland is the hub for most of the Casco Bay islanders and a large parking garage at the Casco Bay Lines terminal serves their need. The Maine State Ferry Service provides parking for the six island communities it serves. In fact the Ferry Service has recently expanded its parking space at Rockland, the hub for Vinalhaven, North Haven and Matinicus, and at Lincolnville Beach, the mainland access for Islesboro. The islands served by private boat services such as the Cranberries, Isle au Haut, Monhegan and Chebeague must fend for themselves

The town of Cranberry Isles consists of two year round communities, one on Great Cranberry and the other on Little Cranberry, known as Islesford. Lobstering is still strong on Islesford, but the number of lobstermen on Great Cranberry has steadily diminished during the last decade and will probably never recover. Great Cranberry is in the midst of an historic shift from an island-based lobster and boatbuilding/storage economy to one where most of the jobs for islanders will need to be found on the mainland if the community is to survive. Great Cranberry’s school closed two years ago and the year-round population now hovers between 35 and 40. The boat schedule for both the Cranberry communities has been oriented around the need to bring mainland workers to the islands, especially in the summer, not vice-versa. So commuting to a mainland job is not possible unless you have a part-time job with hours of 10-3 – and if you did, you couldn’t afford to live on-island.

Jesse Minor, an Island Fellow for the Town of Cranberry Isles, has been compiling the results of a comprehensive survey a town committee developed in order to analyze the islands’ current and future needs for access to the mainland. The survey, based on 210 responses from a total of 400 surveys, indicates that more than 300 parking spaces are currently needed by year-round and seasonal residents for between three and four months a year. With the new Southwest Harbor spaces, 310 parking spots will exist which will just cover existing demand. As if the confirm this pent-up demand, Cranberry officials announced at the ribbon cutting that 130 of the 137 spaces had already been contracted before the lot officially had opened. The remaining seven spaces are reserved for transient visitors.

But the survey yielded another surprising result. More than 54 percent of the respondents said they use their own boats to get back and forth between the island and the mainland and that a larger crunch exists as to where boats can be docked on the mainland. In busy Northeast Harbor, a place to leave your boat while you work or shop or go to the doctor’s or whatever is harder to find than a place to park your car. So the waterfront part of the Southwest Harbor site will be developed to accommodate Cranberry’s boats.

The waterfront part of this development plan sparked the interest of an entrepreneur, Steve Pagels, who bought one of the two boats that serves the Cranberries, the ISLAND QUEEN. Pagels announced that he has established a new schedule that will substantially increase the transportation options for Cranberry Islanders to commute or work ashore. Island businesses are also pleased, as it will increase their ability to hire workers who live on the mainland and need additional options for getting out and back to the islands.

The Cranberry transportation development plan still has a long way to go to prove it will be the solution to the island’s future. It is admittedly a risky gamble. But then maintaining the status quo is even riskier since the trajectory of the year-round community on Great Cranberry is undeniably downward.