Many of Maine’s island communities are serviced by a state operated ferry service, but Isle au Haut is not. For the past 30 years, several island residents have been providing year-round ferry service between Stonington and Isle au Haut. Until now the Isle au Haut Company was supported primarily through one island family. When this was no longer practical a nonprofit corporation was initiated to secure the survival of passenger, mail and freight service to support a viable year-round population on Isle au Haut. By gaining nonprofit status they would be able to receive donations from broader sources. The next step was to gain 501c3 tax-exempt status from the IRS. They were denied their first request on the basis that they could not prove that they were relieving a financial burden for the state. There is currently no law that requires the state to provide ferry service to island communities. After many letters and phone calls from state legislators and interested parties they were finally granted their
501c3 tax-exempt status in late November after a three-year process.
The town of Isle au Haut has roughly 79 year-round residents, including 11 children enrolled in the island school. The population increases to several hundred with summer residents. The year-round community of Isle au Haut dates back to the 1700s. Like many of Maine’s islands it remains a continual struggle to maintain a year-round community and a reliable ferry service is essential to that survival.
George Cole, President of Isle au Haut Boat Services, states that a year-round ferry service is crucial to attract new residents and to keep business and the school open on the island. With tax-exempt status the campaign will be able to receive funds from the town as well as establish a general fund appeal and broaden its funding sources.
In addition to a passenger ferry, mail and freight the company also provides access to the portion of Acadia Nation Park that lies on Isle au Haut. The National Park mandates a limit to visitors on the property of Isle au Haut, which the Isle au Haut Company regulates.
Isle au Haut Company currently runs 2 trips a day, six days a week and to accommodate the changing needs of the island it will add a trip one Sunday a month starting this year. Round-trip tickets cost $32.00 for non-residents and $16.00 for residents. 80 percent of its operating budget is covered by fares and freight and they rely on donations and grants to cover the remaining 20 percent.