Reopened historic vistas in Acadia provide new perspectives

Jeff Grey usually expresses his creativity through sculpture and drawing, but as arborist for Acadia National Park, he’s found a different outlet: Restoring historic vistas, like the one opened up this week along the Park Loop Road.

Park Loop Road

Newly reopened Park Loop Road vista reveals Eagle Lake, Conners Nubble and Sargent Mountain, with the remaining trees kept as part of the landscaped picture.

“This is my new palette,” he said, as he scanned the horizon with the newly reopened views of Eagle Lake, Conners Nubble and Sargent Mountain. After a park environmental assessment to confirm no rare plants or animal habitat would be affected, Grey helped pick what trees to remove, what to leave, using both his arborist training, and his artistic eye.

The major operation, involving overhead cables, heavy equipment and more than a dozen crew from the park and the University of Maine Forestry Department, is part of a grand plan to rehabilitate 30 historic vistas along the Park Loop Road, existing pull-outs and parking lots. The vista reopened this week is the second pull-out south of the Cadillac Mountain Road, on the 2-way section of the Park Loop Road.

Look, up in the sky, it’s Bubble Rock!

Since late last summer, these are among the other view-opening changes in Acadia:

bubble rock

Be sure to look up at South Bubble for Bubble Rock, an historic vista recently reopened on a stretch of the Park Loop Road. File picture of this section of the road showed deep woods.

  • A 245-foot long stretch of the Park Loop Road now affords peeks of Bubble Rock to motorists driving between Jordan Pond House and Bubble Rock parking lot – as long as they drive slow enough, and know to look up to the top of South Bubble for the seemingly precariously perched glacial erratic.
  • The first pull-out on the Park Loop Road south of the Cadillac Mountain Road now features dramatic perspectives toward Eagle Lake, southwest to Conners Nubble and Sargent Mountain, and northwest to McFarland and Youngs Mountains.
  • Schooner Head Overlook now has an open vista of Egg Rock and its lighthouse, and of the Precipice of Champlain Mountain.
eagle lake

An even more dramatic view of Eagle Lake, with McFarland and Youngs Mountains in the distance, was reopened late last year. It’s at the first pull-out south of Cadillac Mountain Road.

Over the past few years, staff members from the Olmsted Center for Landscape Preservation in Boston, a part of the National Park Service, and Acadia National Park, have matched up historic 1961 pen and ink drawings of views along the park’s road system with GPS data, to identify historic views, and try to recreate them, according to Robert Page, director of the Olmsted Center.

The project is not only a fitting one to undertake in time for the National Park Service and Acadia Centennial in 2016, it also helps relieve some of the congestion during the busy times, when visitors try to squeeze in a peek at what had become fewer open viewpoints, according to Page. The road system was built between 1922 and 1958, and many of its original viewpoints have grown in over the years.

Carriage road historic vistas also to be restored

A separate vista-opening project is also being undertaken, to restore 44 historic views along the 45-mile carriage road system, as part of a National Park Service Centennial Challenge announced last month. Half of the funding for the $170,000 project will come from federal appropriations, half from the non-profit Friends of Acadia.

The much-loved carriage roads, built by John D. Rockefeller Jr. and gifted to Acadia, benefit from more than $200,000 a year in maintenance funds from the Friends of Acadia’s endowment, and countless volunteer hours during an annual Friends of Acadia’s Take Pride in Acadia Day, a clean-up scheduled the first Saturday in November. The Centennial Challenge effort to restore the carriage road’s historic vistas is just the latest aspect of the park-Friends partnership.

historic vistas

Road laborers Kim Krestan, left, and Rhonda MacDonald, along with arborist Jeff Grey, wrap up the view clearing this week.

This week, as Grey and two other Acadia crew members finished the Park Loop Road project, clearing up the limbs and brush and readying the logs to be chopped up for firewood for park campgrounds or milled for signs or picnic tables, they paused to take in the view and reflect on their efforts.

“It’s beautiful work for a beautiful outcome,” said Rhonda MacDonald, a road laborer for the park.

historic vistas

Some of what was cut down to reopen the view is stacked up awaiting removal.

“I wish we could do it every single day,” said Kim Krestan, also a road laborer.

Grey the arborist pointed out the dead tree left standing for the habitat or food it may provide woodpeckers and other wildlife, and the saving of a big tree that could serve as a good habitat for insect-eating bats. Some logs will be left behind for salamanders and insects.

But Grey also spoke of different aspects, not just of the biology and botany. “We integrated the forest into the picture itself. It’s not just a clear cut,” he said, as he surveyed the restored landscape that one could imagine being designed by Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. himself. Rockefeller, who also helped build the Park Loop Road, hired Olmsted, as famed a landscape architect as his father, to lay out some of the loop road vistas.

“I’m an artist,” said Grey, whose creative medium usually doesn’t involve trees and roadside vistas. “This fulfills some of my talents.”

Other resources for Acadia National Park historic vistas project

Friends of Acadia article, “Preserving Acadia’s Historic Roadside Views”

Acadia National Park’s page on Park Loop Road and carriage road historic vistas, including map and photos

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