Under sunny skies during a Labor Day weekend visit, Smriti Rao and her daughter, Nandita Karthik, 8, stopped along Acadia National Park’s Loop Road to enjoy new wayside exhibits overlooking Frenchman Bay.
“I think they are very helpful,” Rao said on Sunday after pausing to read an exhibit titled “The French Connection,” describing the role that Samuel Champlain and others from France and elsewhere played in the history of Mount Desert Island. “It reminded me of what the French contributed.”
Her daughter, a third-grader, pointed to a section of the exhibit about the Wabanaki Indians and said it was similar to what she learned at school about Native American history.
Visitors to Acadia National Park this year, such as Smriti, Nandita and 6 others in their family up over the Labor Day weekend, may be surprised to see new roadside and other exhibits, erected in time for the park’s Centennial next year.
On Mount Desert Island, 64 new Acadia wayside exhibits were installed last fall and winter, including some that replaced exhibits dating from the 1970s and 1980s, said Lynne Dominy, chief of interpretation and education at Acadia National Park.
“Over a couple of months, suddenly everything was replaced across MDI,” she said. The exhibits can be found along the Cadillac Summit Loop and parking lot, the Jordan Pond House observation deck, the Park Loop Road and other parts of the island.
Acadia wayside exhibits funded by National Park Service grant
Five years ago, Acadia won a $450,000 grant it sought from the National Park Service to finance the work, Dominy said.
The grant paid for the design, fabrication and installation of the new Acadia wayside exhibits, plus the removal of former exhibits including their old concrete bases.
Many of the new exhibits are set in stone. In many cases, the park used stones that were already along the sides of the roads.
Last year, 21 were installed at Jordan Pond and Wildwood Stables, which provides historic horse-drawn carriage tours along Acadia’s scenic carriage roads daily, The work was financed by a portion of the concession fees, after concessionaires approached the park about possibly designing and installing the waysides to provide some answers for visitors. “Concessionaires in both places said, ‘People are asking questions all the time.’ “
Explaining a popover, and other answers in Acadia wayside exhibits
At Jordan Pond, some new exhibits are on a viewing deck, where people often wait before being seated at the restaurant, or along the parking lots. To avoid obstructing views, the park did not place any exhibits on the lawn, she said.
“They are designed around all the questions that people are constantly asking at Jordan Pond. What is a popover?” for example.
That frequent question is answered with an exhibit called “Savor the Setting.” There is also an exhibit “Tea, Popovers, and Tradition,” which explains that people began coming to the Jordan Pond House for tea, popovers and views of the North and South Bubbles more than 100 years ago. The exhibit also includes a copy of an early menu when $1.90 would buy tea, and popovers with jam and butter.
Some of the exhibits include orientation panels to help people find their way around the park.
At the top of Cadillac Mountain, for example, one wayside directs people to the true peak behind the gift shop off the Cadillac South Ridge Trail.
“People did not know how to find the Ocean Path,” she said. “They did not know where to find trailheads.”
Near Jordan Pond House, four “Savor the Setting” displays not only answer the popover question, but they also help people figure out where Jordan Pond is in relation to where they got off the Island Explorer or parked their car, and where the Jordan Pond House is. The Jordan Pond House parking lot often gets full during the peak season, so people are directed to the north parking lot, which has paths connecting to both the Jordan Pond House, as well as to the Jordan Pond Path and other hiking trails.
Next year, in order to help the visually impaired, the park will be offering six headsets for audio descriptions of waysides. People will be able to check out headsets and return them later to the park visitor center.
A long-term plan calls for technology to enable people to use their mobile phones to access audio to the exhibits.
Changing messages in Acadia wayside exhibits over the years
Many exhibits still fulfill the traditional purpose of explaining scenic views. In a new twist, they also include colorful visuals and information about the appearance of the views in different seasons.
At a rest area off the Park Loop Road, for example, motorists can stop, roll down a window and get a spectacular panorama of 1,058-foot Champlain Mountain, 1,270-foot Dorr Mountain and 1,530-foot Cadillac Mountain, along with a new exhibit of the changing scenery, wildlife and flora in each of the four seasons.
Dominy said such exhibits are aimed at getting people to think about Acadia in a season when they might never see it.
The new exhibits show how the park’s messages have changed over the years.
In the past, a wayside would have an historic image and some simple text.
Now, the waysides attempt to tell a more comprehensive story and maybe suggest a related alternate trip in the region.
One example is “The French Connection,” located at a rest area over Frenchman Bay.
The wayside includes a copy of a map drawn by the French explorer Samuel Champlain, who gave Mount Desert Island its name during his 1604 voyage.
The exhibit explains that Cadillac Mountain was designated after Antoine de la Mothe-Cadillac, a French noble who received in 1688 a large land grant from his king that included all of Mount Desert Island.
The wayside exhibit reminds people that the British ultimately defeated the French in the wars of the 1770s and seized control of northeast America. And it proposes a visit to St. Croix Island International Historic Site on the Maine-Canada border, where another French explorer established a settlement in 1604.
Perhaps nowhere are the new wayside exhibits more prominent than on the peak of Cadillac.
One exhibit, titled “Saved for Future Generations,” shows an historic photo of key park founder George B. Dorr talking with Secretary of the Interior Franklin Lane in 1917 on the peak of Cadillac Mountain.
“There are a lot of people who go to the top of Cadillac without going anywhere else in the park,” Dominy said.
With the new Acadia wayside exhibits that rim that parking lot and peak trail, visitors may get a lot more out of that stop than in the past.