One in a series about Acadia National Park hiking trails
Robin Emery is well known in Maine as a trailblazer and champion in women’s running, but many people may not be aware of her deep connections to Acadia National Park hiking.
Emery, 70, a teacher in Ellsworth Elementary-Middle School, has hiked in the park since she was a teenager, including along a namesake trail, Emery Path. Emery is so familiar with the Acadia backcountry that when asked to identify a photo of a path from virtually anywhere in the park, she can almost always correctly say where it was taken.
“I have been all over these mountains,” she said.
During a recent sunny afternoon, she paused at the sign to Emery Path, located off the Sieur de Monts Spring parking lot, before a trek from Emery to Schiff Path and to the peak of Dorr Mountain.
“If you guys want to come, it is going to be a small fee,” she joked with a couple of friends at the trailhead. “The Emery family will get the proceeds.”
She said it’s “awesome” that a trail has her name, but she did not know that it was recently returned to its historic name of Emery Path, after being known as the Dorr Mountain East Face Trail. Emery said she does not research the history of the Acadia National Park hiking trails and generally does not know their names. She just knows where they lead.
The memorial path is named after John Josiah Emery, whose 1895 “cottage,” known as the Turrets, is now owned by the College of the Atlantic. But it’s unclear if there’s a long-lost family connection, according to her cousin John, the keeper of the family geneaology that dates back to 1649.
Emery moved back to Maine in 2000 to live year-round after teaching in Massachusetts for nine years and said she feels a powerful connection with the state and Mount Desert Island. On the drive to Sieur de Monts, she advises friends to “get ready” before stopping her car near the intersection of Kebo Street and the Park Loop Road and pointing to three prominent mountains framed on the horizon.
“That is my favorite view on the whole island, almost, right here. That is Dorr, Cadillac and Kebo.”
How a running hall of famer and champion golfer got her start
Emery grew up in a coal-mining region of Pennsylvania and graduated from Allegheny College in that state, but she spent summers with her parents at their family home in Lamoine.
Emery’s parents, Gordon and Shirley, both public school teachers in Pennsylvania, liked to golf at the Kebo Valley Golf Club in Bar Harbor and Emery and her younger brother, Jared, would hike the trails while their parents were on the links.
Leaving from the course, the two Emery kids would hike the “seven summits,” of Acadia National Park hiking, or Cadillac, Sargent, Huguenot Head, Champlain, Dorr, Pemetic and Penobscot.
Her uncle Fred, a pediatrician from Bangor who went to high school in Bar Harbor and a brother to Clarence, an obstetrician, did not hike much himself, but he would drive his niece and her cousin, James, to trailheads in his old station wagon and encourage them to explore the woods.
As a young woman, she also often hit the trails with the late Lois Thayer Frazier of Hulls Cove, who loved riding horses and hiking and was an expert on Acadia National Park hiking and the carriage roads of Acadia.
“Lois knew trails that I did not know,” she said. “Some of those trails are not even around today because they are overgrown. We would climb all the time, all over, everywhere. She was the classiest person.”
Emery, who was inducted into the Maine Running Hall of Fame in 1990, is noted for breaking the glass ceiling in women’s running in Maine, but even during the days of the rusticators, women generally faced no gender barriers on the trails.
“Women used to hike here in their long dresses,” she said. “My mom and dad used to hike the Precipice, with my mom wearing saddle shoes and a long white skirt while carrying a cake.”
Emery said it’s difficult to single out trails as her favorites since she enjoys them all.
She does cite Day Mountain, Norumbega Mountain from Lower Hadlock Pond and especially on a foggy day, the woods of Triad Trail between the summits of Triad and Pemetic mountains. She also likes Dorr Mountain, named for the park founder, and 1,530-foot Cadillac Mountain, the highest in Acadia.
“I play golf a lot in the summer,” she said. “I like climbing when it is not too hot, plus there are so many people in the summer in the park. I like the fall when everybody goes home and I get it back to myself again.
“In the winter, I like to snowshoe. The cool part is they close most of the Park Loop Road in the winter and I like walking down the middle of the road. It is like you are the last person in the world. By the end of the winter, I will have hiked the whole loop road.”
Emery’s running feats include racing against Joan Benoit Samuelson
While hiking is a favorite pastime, she made her mark in running in Maine, helping pave the way for the success of other women runners such as Joan Benoit Samuelson, who is 10 years younger than her.
Emery can still reel off some of her best times – 17 minutes and 45 seconds for a 5K; 3 hours and 3 minutes for a marathon and 35 minutes and 40 seconds for a 10K.
According to her biography in the Maine Running Hall of Fame, she was the top woman finisher in 255 races. She counts 9 victories in the Portland Boys Club 5-mile contest and 15 victories in the Bangor Labor Day 5-mile race, including the last one at 52. She was the first woman to run the Labor Day race, which now awards the “Robin Emery Trophy” to the top female finisher, and was one of the first of two women to run in the Portland Boys Club.
She still runs every day, mostly after school, totaling about 42 miles a week on different routes near her home. She figures she may have missed a day of running about three years ago.
She loves to compete. In fact, she said, she could hardly wait to turn 70 because it means she can finish first in her age group.
“I don’t have to race those young 60-year-olds any more. So far, I am undefeated this year in my age group,” winning 16 out of 16 races, including a 10K on Sunday in Lubec.
She also became proficient at golf when a former pro at Kebo Valley, Gene McNabb, gave her free golf lessons when she was a young girl one summer. She became good enough to be women’s champion at the club during 1970 and 1971 and she still is a member at Kebo.
Emery smiled as she provided a tour of the hazardous 17th hole at Kebo, where obese President William Taft needed an historic 27 strokes to finish the hole.
While many people move away from Maine for work, Emery says “a sense of place” gives her special meaning and identity. Her home, with exposed beams and old square nails, was built in 1867 by brothers from a local family and the 7-acre property serves as a gathering spot for family reunions.
“We came up every summer to the same house,” she said of her family. “My great uncle later willed it to my dad.”
Emery’s cousin John, who tracks the family geneaology, said that he and Robin are direct descendants of Anthony Emery, who settled Kittery in 1649, and William and Joel Emery, who settled on Mount Desert Island around 1800. And while it’s unclear what relationship, if any, their branch of the family has to John Josiah Emery, for whom Emery Path is named, the “Emery District” shown on historic MDI maps is named after their family. George B. Dorr even referred to the Thomas Emery farm in the district, in some of his writings about the establishment of the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory.
Acadia’s crowds, environment change, but Emery’s feelings don’t
In addition to the growing crowds on the trails over the years, Emery said perhaps the biggest change in Acadia National Park hiking involves the forest. She said it is astonishing to see the growth in trees such as birch and aspen, which replaced the spruce and fir that were leveled by a tremendous fire that destroyed about 10,000 acres within the park 70 years ago this year.
“These trees have grown up with me,” she said. “The fire was ’47, as old as me, about. All the trees have come back and it has filled in all over and it is so much greener than it was way, way back. In the early days, it was sort of bare. The fire took a lot. Now, it is just amazing how it has grown in. It is very nice.”
One thing that never changes is her intense feelings about Maine. On a recent hike from Dorr Mountain, she stopped amid the breeze and the ocean views to Baker Island and the other Cranberry Isles. “I can feel the roots from this place,” Emery said. “I can’t think of living anywhere else. I feel part of it. I have always felt that way.”