Work on historic hiking paths in Acadia steps up for high season

On Ocean Path in Acadia National Park, trails crew supervisor Christian Barter knelt on the ground on a sunny morning in April while he built a new retaining wall, aiming to protect the trail from climate and the relentless pounding of hikers.

Christian Barter of Acadia Trail Crew

Much of the work on Acadia hiking trails is still done by hand, as demonstrated by Christian Barter in building a new stone side wall along Ocean Path.

“You have to think about every bit of edge along that trail and how you can make it permanent, so that it will hold the surface in between the edges,” said Barter, who started on the Acadia trails crew in 1989 and has been a supervisor for about 23 years. “It is just a matter of going through every spot.”

Work on the historic hiking paths and trails in Acadia is stepping up as the numbers of people on Ocean Path and other trails is set to climb in the months ahead. With Acadia attracting more than 4 million visits in 2021, keeping the trails in shape is an on-going process.

The National Park Service opened the full 27-mile Park Loop Road at Acadia on Friday, including the summit road to Cadillac Mountain, which will require a vehicle reservation starting May 25. The park’s 45-mile carriage road system, which was closed for mud season, reopened to pedestrians on April 12, but not yet to bicyclists or horses.

The opening of the loop road and carriage road system increases access to trailheads and historic hiking paths in Acadia and heralds the start of another tourist season. It’s also the beginning of a busy time for the Acadia trails crew, charged with maintaining and rehabilitating the 155 miles of hiking trails in the first national park east of the Mississippi.

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Acadia hiking trails added to the national historic register

Acadia National Park hiking trails received a special honor on Friday when they were added to the National Register of Historic Places, closing an effort that park officials launched more than 20 years ago, and establishing the largest hiking trail system on the federal list of places worth preserving.

Otter Creek, Mount Desert

Frederic Church of the Hudson River School painted this scene of Cadillac and Dorr mountains around 1850, an historically significant vista still visible today behind Acadia’s Fabbri Memorial. (Image from National Park Service/National Register of Historic Places Registration Form)

Placed on the register as “The Mount Desert Island Hiking Trail System, ” the Acadia National Park network consists of 109 maintained trails and paths covering about 117 miles.  The Acadia hiking trails system also includes 18 memorial plaques or markers along the trails and 12 iconic viewpoints from the trails, according to the system’s sweeping nomination report for the historic register.

“Acadia National Park now has the largest system of trails to be listed in the National Register of Historic Places,” Kevin Schneider, Superintendent of Acadia National Park, said. “This recognition is a testament to not only the historic significance of these trails, but also the incredible dedication of the National Park Service staff, partners and volunteers who continue to preserve them.”

The system of trails is historically significant partly because of its strong connections to the Hudson River School of artists in the mid-1800s and the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.

Gary Stellpflug, longtime foreman of the Acadia trails crew who worked on the nomination, confirmed the approval on the national register of historic places, calling it “very exciting” and  worthy of “fireworks and champagne.”

“We had a lot of people pushing for it,” Stellpflug said. “I feel incredibly elated. It’s been a long time coming. This trail system deserves that recognition and protection.”

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Acadia National Park welcome center may finally be built

After 20 years of planning, construction of a new $24 million Acadia National Park welcome center and transit hub could be completed in 2025, providing visitors a major new way to take the fare-free shuttle to the park and help reduce crowds and traffic problems.

Acadia Gateway Center

This design shows Island Explorer buses picking up visitors from the planned Acadia Gateway Center’s intermodal transportation and welcome center. (NPS image)

The Acadia Gateway Center will serve as an intermodal transportation hub and offer a 11,000 square-foot welcome center with high beamed ceilings, huge windows and a new busway for the park’s Island Explorer shuttle and commercial tour buses right outside the doors, a National Park Service official said.

The national park welcome center will be “an attraction in itself,” said John Kelly, management assistant at Acadia National Park, and comes when Acadia drew more than 4 million visits in 2021 and parking was tighter than ever inside the park. The new welcome center, when built, would operate along with the existing Hulls Cove Visitor Center.

In a new boost for the project, the Maine Department of Transportation, in a construction advertising schedule for 2022, says it will seek bids in December to construct the Acadia Gateway intermodal and welcome center, earmarking $26.2 million for the project.

Kelly released new slides that display the expansive interior of the national park welcome center with cathedral ceilings, as well as a new overall site plan that shows the busway and parking. Two hundred and fifty new parking spaces with 32 spaces for electric vehicles behind the center are also planned, Kelly said.

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First winter Acadia National Park entrance fees top $500,000

Acadia National Park is collecting entrance fees during the winter for the first time this year, raising more than $500,000 as of January to help retain staff and fund plowing and other winter services.

national park fees

A visit to Acadia in winter now means having to pay a park entrance fee (NPS image)

In a change that started Nov. 1, Acadia National Park entrance fees are now required year-round and the park is staffing the Sand Beach Entrance Station seven days a week for the first time in the winter. Previously, the park required an entrance pass only between May 1 and October 31 and there was no charge between Nov. 1 and April 30.

Winter visits nearly doubled over the past decade, helping spur Acadia to start charging the fees.

“We did not collect entrance fees in the winter in the past, but it has gone very, very smoothly,” Acadia Superintendent Kevin Schneider said during an online meeting of the Acadia National Park Advisory Commission this month. “We have not gotten a lot of pushback from park visitors, which is great. People have embraced entrance fees I think and understand the importance of it.”

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Gary Stellpflug, steward of Acadia hiking trails, to retire

UPDATE on 2/15/2022: Reaction from Jack Russell was added.

UPDATE on 2/18/2022: Gary Stellpflug thanks people for their comments on his planned retirement.

Gary J. Stellpflug, longtime foreman of the Acadia National Park Trails Crew, said he is planning to retire from the National Park Service this year, after leading a sweeping rehabilitation of the historic Acadia hiking trails during his tenure.

acadia hiking trails

Gary Stellpflug, Acadia trails foreman, inspects the damage done to a bridge on the Hadlock Brook Trail by an “exceptional” storm on June 9, 2021, attributed by the National Park Service to climate change. (Photo courtesy of Gary Stellpflug)

“I’ve been here long enough,” Stellpflug said in an exclusive interview. “It’s time for somebody else to step in.”

He said there is no exact date for his retirement, but it will be before the start of a new fiscal year on Oct. 1. He said he wants to help in a transition to a new Acadia hiking trails foreman and is working with Keith Johnston, chief of maintenance, on a succession plan.

Stellpflug, who has been foreman of the Acadia trails crew for more than 35 years, helped launch a major effort to restore and maintain Acadia hiking trails after Acadia became the first national park in the country with an endowment for a trail system.

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Falcon chicks boost resurgence of raptor at Acadia National Park

Update 7/14/2021: Two chicks fledged at each of three nests at Acadia National Park in 2021, or six in total, Patrick Kark, ornithology ranger at Acadia, told us in an email. “It has been a good season,” Kark wrote to us. “Glad all three sites made it through some extreme weather events. Two major rainstorms and an extreme heat wave. It is also nice to see fledglings back at the Precipice since they had failed in 2020.”

Thirty years after the first peregrine falcon chicks hatched during Acadia National Park reintroduction efforts, the raptor continues an amazing recovery, with month-old chicks spotted in several nests this year, and new park statistics underscoring their comeback.

Patrick Kark, ornithology ranger at Acadia, recently released a chart on the total number of peregrine falcon chicks fledged at Acadia since 1991 in four cliff-top sites including 78 at the Precipice; 31 at Jordan Cliffs; 27 at Valley Cove; and 24 at Beech Cliff.

peregrine falcon Precipice Trail

Perched atop a pink granite cliff on the Precipice of Champlain Mountain, a peregrine falcon blends in with the gray rockface, as seen during the Acadia Birding Festival earlier this month. The falcon’s yellow beak and talons contrast with the dark gray of the falcon’s back.

“Through having all these nesting sites in park, as of 2020, 160 peregrine falcon fledglings have flown from Acadia, which is a huge number, huge success story,” Kark said during a webinar held last month by the Western Maine chapter of Maine Audubon.

Peregrine falcon chicks are set to fledge at three nests this year, Kark wrote in an email last week. There are no confirmed numbers yet, but peregrine falcon chicks are known to be on the Precipice, at Jordan Cliffs above Jordan Pond and at the Valley Cove Cliffs above Somes Sound, Kark wrote. Chicks appear to be around 30 days old, he wrote.

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Acadia airs fee for vehicle reservations on Cadillac Mountain

UPDATE: The NPS Regional Director approved the total $6 fee for each vehicle, and vehicle reservations went on sale beginning Thursday, April 1. Vehicle reservations are required for Cadillac Summit Road from May 26 through Oct. 19. 

Acadia National Park leaders are defending a proposed $6 fee for each car on Cadillac Mountain, saying all the money raised would  go back into operating a new system for vehicle reservations to improve parking on the peak.

Traffic jam on Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park

Traffic jams like this one on Cadillac Mountain are a major reason that Acadia National Park is starting a vehicle reservation system. (NPS photo)

In January, the National Park Service announced that it wants to charge $6 for each vehicle to go up and park on Cadillac, the highest peak on the US Atlantic coast. The proposed fee is three times the $2 charge in a trial run of the reservation system in October and comes as the park superintendent said he expects annual visits to increase this year to at or near regular levels after dropping by 22 percent during the pandemic in 2020.

At an online meeting of the Acadia National Park Advisory Commission, Acadia officials aired the fee and also discussed plans for dramatic new expansions and improvements including the Acadia Gateway Center set to open in 2024, a new Hulls Cove Visitor Center, a reconstruction or renovation of the Jordan Pond House and 21 new buses for the Island Explorer shuttle over the next five years.

Public comments on the proposed fee for vehicle reservations on Cadillac can be made through Feb. 11 at an National Park Service online site.

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Maine virtual racer’s road to recovery from COVID-19

Kathy Dixon-Wallace starts work at 6:30 am to teach middle school science in Milo and likes to run half marathons and hike long distances during the summers.

Kathy Dixon-Wallace on Mt. Katahdin

Kathy Dixon-Wallace on Mount Katahdin in Maine after a hike in 2018, part of her 1,071-day virtual race streak. (Photo provided by Kathy Dixon-Wallace)

A participant since 2017 in the Acadia to Katahdin Virtual Race, she logged over 1,000 straight days of exercise, averaging more than 5 miles a day, almost always running.

She said she liked to think she was unstoppable – until she was struck by COVID-19 last month.

“COVID kind of knocked me on my butt,” Dixon-Wallace, a teacher for 14 years at the Penquis Valley Middle School in Milo, said in a phone interview. “It is scary and it is an unknown.”

Known by her Acadia to Katahdin virtual race name of @KDW, Dixon-Wallace has helped raise funds for Friends of Acadia, Millinocket Memorial Library, and other charities through her participation in the virtual race, and has run the real-life Mount Desert Island Half Marathon once, and the real-life Millinocket Half Marathon three times.

But perhaps the toughest challenge of all has been her recovery from COVID-19. Continue reading

Traffic, visits skyrocket in October at Acadia National Park

Note: November also marked a new high in visits for Acadia National Park. Statistics, reported by the NPS after publication of this story, show 76,251 visits in November, up 66 percent from 2019. The total for 2020 through November is 2.65 million, down 23 percent from 2019.

Visits skyrocketed in October at Acadia National Park, clogging the park with a record amount of traffic fueled by an unusually younger crowd with time to spend and an apparent hunger for the outdoors during the pandemic.

Thunder Hole at Acadia National Park

About 4,000 vehicle reservations were sold for Sunday, Oct. 11 at Acadia National Park including those for people who crowded together on the viewing platform at Thunder Hole.

While visits to the entire park rose by 10 percent in October, visits to the Mount Desert Island section of the park , jumped to 450,675, up by an eye-popping 27 percent from the same month in 2019, despite the loss of cruise ship passengers from Bar Harbor, according to the National Park Service. Sixty thousand vehicles entered the park at Sand Beach in October at Acadia, the highest-ever count for the month in records going back to 1990, an NPS report said.

The surge of people in October at Acadia means the park is on pace to log more than 2.6 million visits for 2020, or about 800,000 less than 2019 with 3.43 million visits, and about 900,000 less than the 3.53 million that set a visitation record in 2018. Travel restrictions in Maine helped reduce visits to Acadia early in the season, and the total for the year is set to drop to its lowest in about five years, but with the reduction still much less than initially expected.

Acadia National Park Superintendent Kevin Schneider said October typically attracts a lot of newlyweds and retirees to the park. This year during the pandemic, the newlyweds still came, but there were fewer retirees, he added.

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Maine STRONG

Quarantine holiday shopping guide for Acadia, Katahdin gifts

COVID-19 gives new meaning to “home for the holidays”: Instead of rushing to malls and traveling to visit family, it may mean quarantine holiday shopping from home.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t find the perfect gift for fans of Acadia, Katahdin and all things related to Maine and national parks on your shopping list. Whether you start your holiday shopping on Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday or Giving Tuesday, here’s a special selection to help raise funds for charity, support local business and bring memories of Maine home for the holidays.

And as we’re co-sponsoring the 2020 Acadia to Katahdin Virtual Race that connects participants and supporters of the Mount Desert Island Marathon & Half and Millinocket Marathon & Half, even though the real-life races have been cancelled this pandemic year, we also include ideas for the runner, hiker and all-around outdoor enthusiast on your list. Plus we’ve modeled the glittery Maine STRONG holiday ornament on the virtual race medal, and offering it on this blog’s online shop, to help raise funds for the Friends of Acadia, MDI Marathon, Millinocket Memorial Library and Our Katahdin, all 501(c)(3) charities that are also benefitting from the virtual race.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The glittery Maine STRONG holiday ornament, modeled on the 2020 Acadia to Katahdin Virtual Race medal, is available with 4-inch silver or red ribbon, only on this blog’s online shop. Percentage of proceeds benefit Friends of Acadia, MDI Marathon, Millinocket Memorial Library and Our Katahdin, all 501(c)(3) charities. Order by Dec. 10 to receive by Christmas.

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Acadia parking reservation program draws flak in Bar Harbor

Acadia National Park Superintendent Kevin Schneider said that a trial run of a parking reservation program for the Sand Beach area caused confusion among many visitors and led to “unintended consequences” such as increased traffic congestion in some nearby residential areas.

Acadia National Park Superintendent Kevin Schneider

Acadia National Park Superintendent Kevin Schneider responded to the Bar Harbor Town Council’s concerns about the vehicle reservation program (NPS photo)

“I think that is part of the reason why we are holding off on trying to move forward with Ocean Drive next year,” Schneider told members of the Bar Harbor Town Council during a videoconference meeting. “We did see those impacts. That is not something we want to see happen outside the park.”

He said park officials would consider moving the entrance for the popular Sand Beach area and other changes to improve the parking reservation program and reduce the impact.

Schneider took some flak from councilors about the troubled pilot of the reservation effort for Sand Beach, Thunder Hole and other sites along a one-way, two-mile stretch of the Park Loop Road called Ocean Drive.

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‘Nightmare’ Sand Beach vehicle reservation system deferred

Acadia National Park’s test drive of a vehicle reservation system for the spectacular Ocean Drive and Sand Beach area caused so many problems last month – one town official called it a “nightmare” – that it’s being postponed to 2022 at the earliest.

Acadia National Park Superintendent Kevin Schneider

Acadia National Park superintendent Kevin Schneider is scheduled to update Bar Harbor Town Council on the vehicle reservation system on Nov. 17 (NPS photo)

In the wake of the criticism, Acadia National Park Superintendent Kevin Schneider is scheduled to update the Bar Harbor Town Council on the park’s transportation plan during a videoconference meeting of the council on Tuesday, Nov. 17. The meeting is open to the public via local cable TV or live streaming on the town’s web site.

Acadia still intends to require reservations next year to drive up Cadillac Mountain, another aspect of the test drive that ran from Oct. 1 to 18, but the part of the vehicle reservation system providing access to the spectacular two-mile Ocean Drive and Sand Beach area won’t go into effect in 2021 as originally planned.

Matthew Hochman, vice chair of the Bar Harbor Town Council, said in a Facebook message that the reservation system for Cadillac Mountain overall worked well, but the Ocean Drive part of the trial run was “a nightmare” and caused more problems than it solved, especially along Schooner Head Overlook and a residential street near the Sand Beach Entrance Station.

“Schooner Head Road was a nightmare,” Hochman wrote, adding it was his personal opinion. “I was out there one day and the section from the overlook back towards the Great Head parking was impassable, there were so many cars.”

This month, more than 20 park staff and consultants met virtually to reach agreement on a vehicle reservation system for 2021 that dropped longtime plans to include Ocean Drive and Sand Beach.

Acadia National Park vehicle reservations

Motorists with reservations created a long line of parked cars along Ocean Drive during a test run for the vehicle reservation system at Acadia National Park in October. This part of the park’s transportation plan has been postponed to 2022 at the earliest.

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Mixed views on vehicle reservation system at Acadia

A trial run of the Acadia National Park vehicle reservation system received mixed reactions from visitors, with some cheering the new requirement for reducing traffic congestion and making it easier to access Cadillac and Sand Beach and others criticizing it as too heavy-handed.

Vehicle reservation sign at Acadia National Park

Signs like this one at the Hulls Cove Visitor Center were posted at key spots in Acadia National Park to educate visitors about the vehicle reservation system.

Under the pilot, which started Oct.1 and ends Sunday, Oct. 18, vehicle reservations were required from 4:30 am to 6:30 pm for the summit road at Cadillac Mountain and from 7 am to 5 pm for the Sand Beach Entrance including access to Sand Beach, Thunder Hole and other spots along a two-mile section of the Park Loop Road.

The vehicle reservation system faced intense pressure over the Indigenous Peoples’ Day weekend when some of the biggest crowds of the season descended on Acadia during sunny days on Saturday and Sunday, clogging some areas of the park. Acadia sold more than 4,000 vehicle reservations on one day alone over the weekend, according to a park spokesperson.

People with reservations praised the system because it shrunk the time to enter Sand Beach Entrance Station and the Cadillac Summit Road and took the edge off finding parking.

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Maine Strong! Virtual race with medal aids MDI, Millinocket

With businesses and non-profits hurt and tourism down from Mount Desert Island to Millinocket as this summer ends, a new Acadia to Katahdin Virtual Race links people from around the world in support of the regions, behind the rallying cry of Maine Strong!

virtual race with medals

Made by the same company that makes the MDI and Boston Marathon medals, this virtual race medal features a sparkly red border and heart and glittery white ribbon. Sign up now to earn the right to this Maine Strong medal. (Image courtesy of Ashworth Awards)

Featuring fundraising for area charities, a special “Maine Strong” award with sparkly ribbon, and support of local businesses, the new virtual race with medal is also a special way to mark Maine’s 200th anniversary for those who can’t visit Vacationland in real-life this pandemic year:

Embedded in the 240.1-mile virtual race route are pop-up photos of Acadia’s 26 peaks and Schoodic and Isle au Haut sections; some of Maine’s iconic lighthouses; stops along a virtual Stephen King tour; the Paul Bunyan statue in Bangor; the Liberty Ship Memorial in South Portland; and hair-raising views from Knife Edge on the way up to the finish atop Katahdin.

Sign up today. As the virtual edition of the 2020 Sea to Summit Series, co-sponsored by Acadia on My Mind and runmdi.org – organizers of the real-life MDI Marathon & Half (originally scheduled for Oct. 18, but now cancelled) and Millinocket Marathon & Half (still slated to be run Dec. 5 as of this writing) – this virtual race with medal also includes the entire real-life routes of those events.

And as a show of unity with another real-life race cancelled this year, the virtual race takes a special detour to include the Boston Marathon route. Although the virtual race is not connected with the Boston 26.2-miler, Crow Athletics, the sponsoring club for the real-life MDI and Millinocket races, also hosts a Boston New Years Run, with the 17th edition scheduled for Jan. 1, 2021 – Maine Strong! Boston Strong!

virtual race with medals

You can backdate miles to Aug. 9, no matter where in the world you log them, and see your avatar move along the virtual race map. Register here. (Image courtesy of Racery)

Since 2017 the virtual race has raised more than $1,800 for charity, with hundreds of participants from around the world, ages 10 to 70+, logging a total of more than 190,000 miles on the virtual race maps, by running, walking or hiking anywhere in the world. And to broaden the appeal for more participants, the 2020 Acadia to Katahdin Virtual Race includes for the first time an activity conversion calculator for bicycling, swimming, yoga, calisthenics, tai chi, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing (as the virtual race goes through Dec. 31).

This year’s charities: Friends of Acadia, Millinocket Memorial Library, Our Katahdin and Mount Desert Island Marathon. At least 5% of gross proceeds from the virtual race with medals will go to these 501(c)(3) charities.

And because Maine Strong! is the rallying cry, and local businesses from Acadia to Katahdin are hurting from the pandemic, we invite area restaurants, lodging operators and retailers to let virtual racers and readers of this blog know how they can be supported, by commenting at the bottom of this blog post with links to their business.

With the cancellation of the real-life MDI Marathon & Half in October, and even if the real-life Millinocket Marathon & Half, slated for Dec. 5, can’t go on, perhaps some of the runners and spectators who would have come for those events can still keep their reservations, following pandemic safety protocols, or buy gift certificates to be used when they attend a future race.

In fact, that’s what we intend to do, and we invite you to do the same – Maine Strong!

virtual race with medals

Detail of the Maine Strong glittery ribbon. (Image courtesy of Ashworth Awards)

virtual race with medals

No matter where in the world you log your running, walking or hiking miles, your virtual race avatar starts on the top of Cadillac, then advances over the remaining peaks of Acadia, before jumping to the MDI Marathon course, during the first 2 of 10 segments in the Acadia to Katahdin Virtual Race. Register here. (Image courtesy of Racery)

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Rash of Acadia National Park vandalism: Illegal blazes, painted rocks

Acadia National Park has been hit by a recent rash of vandalism by someone who has used spray paint to damage about five miles of trails on Bald Peak, Huguenot Head and Champlain Mountain with unsightly, off-color blazes.

Gary Stellpflug, foreman of the Acadia trails crew, said he is asking the public to provide possible information on the vandal, who has not been apprehended. “We’re reaching out to the public for information,” Stellpflug said.

acadia national park vandalism

Off-color turquoise spray-painted blaze, left, next to the park’s official sky-blue blaze, marred the scenery along Champlain North Ridge Trail in July. Volunteers spent hours cleaning up the approximately 50 illegal blazes on this trail by August.

The rogue blazes, mainly on boulders and rocks, were removed from Bald Peak last fall and from Huguenot Head and Champlain Mountain in August, Stellpflug said.

The illegal spray-painted blazes, including about 50 on the Champlain North Ridge Trail, come amid ongoing efforts by the park to prevent other types of Acadia National Park vandalism or rule breaking, including the knocking down of historic-style cairns , the leaving of painted rocks, which the park considers to be litter along with paper and other waste, and the stacking of rocks.

About five of the vandal’s illegal paint blazes, also turquoise and of various sizes, were spotted during a hike on Sept. 1 on trails near the Schoodic Head overlook in Acadia. Stellpflug said he is aware of the illegal blazes at Schoodic and plans to have them removed.

In early August, two volunteers spent about 10 hours using an organic solution to wash off about 50 of the spray-painted blazes on the Champlain North Ridge Trail.

During a hike in July, about a month before the Acadia National Park vandalism was cleaned, reporters found that the vandal left misshapen and greenish-blue marks on Champlain’s granite slabs and rocks. They often were sprayed, sometimes in long streaks, near the park’s rectangular, 4-inch-long official sky-blue blaze.

Stellpflug said he is hoping the Acadia National Park vandalism will stop. Stellpflug said he assumes it is the same person who is responsible for all the blazes spray painted on trails.

acadia national park vandalism

The painted rock with the words “You can do it!” (see close-up photo of rock below) was found on a large boulder on Beachcroft Path – the very same boulder that George B. Dorr, the father of Acadia, was standing by in a well-known historic photo, taken around 1940. Such painted rocks are considered vandalism by the park, and offenders could be subject to fines or prison terms.

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