On patrol with stewards of Acadia’s stone cairns, summits

One in a series on Acadia’s Bates cairns

Within minutes of stepping onto the popular Cadillac South Ridge Trail, Tim Henderson spots a couple of Acadia stone cairns vandalized by passersby.

acadia national park hiking

Tim Henderson gets ready to dismantle a random rock stack marring a Bates cairn on the Cadillac South Ridge Trail.

“These two cairns are usually broken, destroyed, knocked over or piled up with stones, because it is easy access,” said Henderson, one of an army of volunteer keepers of Acadia’s stone cairns known as Waldron’s Warriors, who patrol the park’s ridges, summmits and trails, along with Friends of Acadia-supported Summit Stewards.

“It irritates me that people are disrespectful. Obviously we have taken the time to build these to help people and they get destroyed, I assume, maliciously. Yes, it irritates me,” said Henderson, as he proceeded to fix the damaged trail markers.

Henderson is in his third season as a Waldron’s Warrior, named after Waldron Bates, the pathmaker who first came up with the distinctive trail markers known as Bates cairns in the early 1900s.

The cairns are like mini-architectural wonders, positioned just so, with 2 columns of 2 to 4 base stones, a lintel stone across the top, and a pointer stone indicating the direction of the trail.

acadia national park hiking

Bates cairns are particularly critical in pointing the way in foggy weather. (Photo by Tim Henderson)

Bates cairns fell into disuse over the years, replaced by conical rock piles. But they were revived in 2001, as a way to tie the park to a key part of its history, guide hikers and protect the fragile mountain terrain by keeping people on the trails. The Bates-style cairns give Acadia a special brand.

Even though the park posts signs and works to educate people, visitors often dismantle the cairns or pile loose rocks on them, ruining their character and violating park rules.

Henderson and other stewards of Acadia’s stone cairns and summits do their best to fight against the tide.

Wearing protective gloves and other gear for the chilly May day that he’s on patrol on the Cadillac South Ridge, Henderson takes down randomly stacked rocks, rebuilds destroyed Bates cairns, and otherwise maintains the trail markers that are critical for safe passage.

“They are for safety. They are there to help guide hikers. Unless you hike a lot and you hike in bad weather, you don’t understand how important they are,” said Henderson, who is so passionate about Acadia’s trails, he will drive more than an hour from his home in Castine to serve as a Waldron’s Warrior, even bringing his wife Jennifer along on a recent trip to celebrate their anniversary in a unique way.

“Whether it is snow, or fog, or rain, you need these cairns,” said Henderson, who owns a computer repair and service business, called PC-fitness Computer Services, and writes a blog, www.HikingMaineiacs.com, with his wife.

Stewards of Acadia National Park say don’t mess with Bates cairns

Henderson is joined by about 20 other volunteer Waldron’s Warriors, like Jim Linnane, who patrols the Sargent East Cliffs and Penobscot trails.

Linnane said he does not see the extent of cairn damage that occurs on more popular trails such as those near Cadillac. The trails he maintains are “very tough” and mostly used by experienced and skilled hikers who are aware the cairns are special and important.

Stephanie Ley

Stephanie Ley, coordinator of the Summit Stewards at Acadia National Park, watches over the peak of Cadillac Mountain during the busy July 4 weekend.

“There’s been a great effort” to educate visitors about the cairns and it “absolutely” seems to be working, said Linnane.

The job of keeping up the cairns and educating visitors about their importance is also handled during the busy season by the Friends of Acadia-funded Summit Stewards program.

Over on the top of Cadillac during the hectic July 4 weekend, Stephanie Ley of Bar Harbor, coordinator of the Summit Stewards, kept watch of Bates cairns as just one of her duties.

An 8-member group, the Summit Stewards work in the summer and serve as roving educators and researchers, according to the non-profit Friends and park officials.

The stewards answer visitor questions, conducting basic trail maintenance, repair cairns, remove visitor-built cairns and rock “art,” educate people on Leave No Trace(R) principles, respond to emergencies, communicate with park managers, help monitor traffic, collect data about weather, car and bus traffic, visitor use, and behaviors, according to the Friends.

Fixing Bates cairns or dismantling fake ones is a natural focus for the Summit Stewards, as they patrol the summits, ridges and trails. Ley said that during a recent training session up Dorr Mountain and then to the peak of Cadillac, members found at least 10 cairns that had to be repaired or taken down.

Ley said she often hikes on her days off and even then works to protect the cairns.

“Having these cairns is useful,” she said. “I don’t want anyone to get steered astray.”

Ley is overseeing a consolidated group that started this year and gives people more diverse duties.

charlie jacobi

Charlie Jacobi is natural resource and visitor use specialist at Acadia National Park. He came up with the idea for Waldron’s Warriors to help protect the Bates cairns, and works directly with the Summit Stewards.

The Summit Stewards and the old Ridge Runners, created in 1997, merged into one group called the Summit Stewards, according to Charlie Jacobi, Acadia natural resource specialist. The four Ridge Runners’ duties used to include maintaining various trails, monitoring carriage roads and collecting data while the four stewards used to focus only on the summit area and trails leading to it.

“That’s the big change for me this summer and for all of them,” Jacobi said. “I’m sure we can do it. We will be asking a lot of all of them.”

Jacobi said the unified group will spend about 50 percent of its time on the Cadillac Mountain summit and the rest in other parts of the national park, zeroing in the areas that have the most visitors.

Jacobi and Gary Stellpflug, Acadia trails foreman, helped lead the effort to restore the Bates-style cairns.

Cadillac is such a magnet for visitors, the summit and its trails are prime places to look for vandalized stone cairns that need fixing, and to educate visitors, one by one.

The next time you see a Bates cairn in good shape on Cadillac or elsewhere in Acadia, you can thank a Waldron’s Warrior like Henderson or Linnane, or a Summit Steward like Ley.

And don’t be tempted to randomly stack rocks on top, build fake cairns elsewhere, or destroy Acadia’s iconic trail markers.

That would wreak havoc for hikers who come behind you, and disrespect the efforts of the stewards of Acadia’s stone cairns and summits.

Acadia’s stone cairns are Zen-like mini-architectural wonders

acadia national park hiking

Hopefully signs, such as this one on the West Ledge Trail to Bernard Mountain, will help educate hikers about the importance of leaving the Bates cairns alone.

acadia national park hiking

Bates cairns lead the way along Sargent East Cliffs Trail, toward the view of Pemetic and Cadillac Mountains.

acadia national park hiking

A Bates cairn on the trail to the Triad.

acadia national park hiking

Bates cairns mark the trail along the Pemetic South Ridge.

acadia national park hiking

Bates cairn and rhodora highlight the West Ledge Trail to Bernard Mountain.

Randomly stacked rocks mar the scenery and violate park rules

acadia national park hiking

Summit of Penobscot Mountain recently marred by this rock pile.


This circle of rocks defaced Sargent Mountain. (NPS photo courtesy of Charlie Jacobi)


This photo of cairn vandalism and rock-stacking on the east face of Dorr Mountain along what is now known as Schiff Path was taken in the late 1990s. (NPS photo provided courtesy of Charlie Jacobi)

rock stack

Random rock stacks at Blue Hill Overlook on Cadillac Mountain gets in the way of the view for visitors seeking natural beauty. (NPS photo courtesy of Charlie Jacobi)

acadia national park hiking

This is not rock art, but rock graffiti, in the eyes of Waldron’s Warriors. (Photo by Tim Henderson)


There’s nothing to smile about with this rock pile. (NPS photo courtesy of Charlie Jacobi)