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.

Motivation unknown in Acadia National Park vandalism

Stellpflug said he has no idea what would motivate someone to deface the trails. He said he has never previously seen vandalism of this type and so extensive in the park, where crude slashes were spray painted on rocks and sometimes right next to the park’s official blazes or Bates-style cairns.

Blaze on right in photo is the work of a vandal at Acadia National Park

A visitor’s trail running shoes frame the park’s official blue blaze, to left in photo, and an off-color blaze, to right in photo, spray painted by a vandal on the Champlain North Ridge Trail.

“It’s not like it makes the trail any better marked,” he said. “I think somebody thought they were helping, perhaps.”

If people have information on the trail vandalism, they can call 207-288-3338 and follow the prompts to report an incident to law enforcement.

The Acadia National Park vandalism began in the fall of 2018 when someone paint-blazed and cut brush on 3.1 miles of various, old “colored-path” abandoned trails on Champlain Mountain, Stellpflug wrote in his 2019 Acadia Trails Forever report.

Stellpflug wrote that he learned of that vandalism when people asked him if the crew was opening sections of abandoned trails.The vandal’s blazes, in that case, were well done in the same color as the park’s official blue, according to Stellpflug.

Crews painted over the blazes with a neutral gray, almost completely obscuring them, and dragged brush over opened areas.

Acadia National Park vandalism mars popular peaks and trails

Later in 2019, a vandal used spray paint to deface about two miles of trails on Bald Peak, as well as a short section off the main part of Beachcroft Path leading to Huguenot Head and nearly the entire Champlain North Ridge Trail.

The trails crew is working short-handed this year and involved with major rehabilitations on the Long Pond Trail and the Razorback Trail and other trail work across the park. For the second year in a row, Stellpflug was only able to hire 10 seasonal workers to complement eight permanent workers, he said.

In 2019, the federal government shutdown reduced hiring and this year, the challenges of the pandemic limited hiring and delayed a return to work for some crew members.

acadia national park vandalism

Two of the approximately 50 illegal spray-painted green-blue blazes, next to an official sky-blue blaze, seen along the Champlain North Ridge Trail in July.

During hikes in July on Beachcroft Path and the Champlain North Ridge trails, it was appalling to get a closeup look at the vandalism, with some spray paint marring giant open rock face near the peak.

Along the mile-long Champlain North Ridge Trail, one of the oldest marked paths in Acadia, reporters counted about 50 of the illegal blazes spread throughout the trail, some as long as 14 to 15 inches, and most uneven or pointed at the edges, as opposed to the official park blazes that are of uniform size and shape.

Volunteers Mark Munsell and Jerry Hopcroft cleaned the vandalism off the Champlain North Ridge Trail and Huguenot Head, according to Stellpflug.

Vandals at National Parks face jail and fines if convicted

While the penalties for vandalism can vary and depend on the scope of the damage, anyone who damages a natural feature or property in a National Park faces a fine up to $500 and jail term as long as 6 months, or both, according to US statutes.

Another type of trail vandalism – the dismantling or disfiguring of Bates-style cairns  – continues to be a problem in certain areas in Acadia.

acadia national park hiking

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

Separately, rock stacking, either on the Bates cairns or in arbitrary places at the coast and mountains, can create another blight in certain places.

The park’s extensive outreach and education generally has paid off in preserving the cairns over the years and informing the public about their significance, Stellpflug said.

While the cairn damage is not as extensive as in the past, issues remain. It’s hard to keep up with the cairn destruction and stone stacking on trails off Cadillac Mountain, he said, and recently on the Champlain North Ridge Trail, a vandal knocked over about two dozen of the Bates cairns.

The rock markers are named after Waldron Bates, chair of the Bar Harbor Village Improvement Association Path Committee in the early 1990s who first designed the cairns.

Starting in 2001, Charlie Jacobi, park natural resource specialist who is retired now, Stellpflug, and others began restoring the cairns. The cairns, built of two base stones with a lintel across them and pointer stone on top, are critical for guiding hikers and they also help protect sensitive mountain soils and plants by keeping people on the trails.

The cairns are kept in shape and maintained by a group of volunteers called “Waldron’s Warriors,” and also by the Friends of Acadia-funded Summit Stewards program.

The park erects different types of informational signs on the trails and has several exhibits at the Hulls Cove Visitor Center to educate people about the cairns and reduce rock stacking, but people still knock over the cairns or mar them by placing numerous stones on them.

Display in Acadia National Park emphasizes the importance of protecting historic cairns

This NPS display on Cadillac Mountain is one of many signs and exhibits that underscore the importance of protecting cairns in Acadia National Park.

During a hike to Champlain Mountain at the end of August, we talked with a hiker from Pennsylvania who said she was knocking down the Bates-style cairns because she considered them to be rock stacking. She said she did not know the cairns were erected and maintained by the park.

“That’s what some people do,” Stellpflug said when we told him about our attempts to educate the hiker. “Some people knock down cairns because they don’t know any better.”

About 10 to 12 miles of trails have been blazed with official blue marks by crews this year to help hikers remain on trails, Stellpflug added.

Christie Anastasia, public affairs specialist for Acadia National Park, said that in fiscal 2017, volunteers deconstructed nearly 3,500 rock stacks on trails fanning down from the Cadillac summit especially the Gorge and the Cadillac South Ridge Trail.

Painted rocks newer form of Acadia National Park vandalism

Besides rock stacking, another vandalism fad spoiling Acadia and other public lands: The painting of small rocks with different colors or messages and hiding them for others to find.

Facebook groups, such as Midcoast Maine Rocks, encourage members to find the rocks, take a photo of the rock and possibly hide it again. While some of the groups say National Parks are off-limits, members violate rules and administrators don’t take the posts down.

acadia national park vandalism

On the back side of this painted rock, found on the Beachcroft Path, are the words “Midcoast Maine Rocks. Visit on Facebook. Post pic!” It is a violation of park rules, and also of the Facebook group page’s rules.

The rock stacking, vandalism to cairns and painted rocks in Acadia – including one we found on a prominent boulder on Beachcroft Path in July – violate federal regulations and break the principles of the Leave No Trace(R) program, which seeks to reduce impacts on wilderness and park.

On Midcoast Maine Rocks, in nine separate posts, some of its 5,800 members boast about finding or hiding rocks on Kebo Mountain, Cadillac Mountain, Day Mountain, Compass Harbor, Sand Beach and other areas in the park as well as one in the Indian Point Blagden Preserve on Mount Desert Island, this summer season. This is even though the group’s rules say “State/National Parks and private property are off limits.”

The painted rocks, if left in Acadia, constitute litter.

George B. Dorr is father of Acadia National Park

George B. Dorr on Beachcroft Path. What would he have thought if he found a painted rock perched on this boulder, as we did? (NPS photo)

Rock stacking and painted rocks may be meaningful hobbies for some people, but they should not be placed or hidden in Acadia, Anastasia stated.

“For Acadia National Park, where people expect to explore a more natural experience, the rock stacks and painted rocks intrude on the visitor experience as vandalism and litter,” she wrote in an email.

What should people do if they find a painted rock or litter in the park?

“The painted rocks should be considered litter and if a visitor is willing to remove trash such as plastic dog poo bags, soda cans, and wayward food wrappers that will help make the park a better place,” Anastasia wrote.

Acadia asks visitors to keep painted rocks out of park

In its effort to rid the park of painted rocks, Acadia drew 827 comments on its own Facebook page when it urged the public to “please keep painted rocks out of your national parks” in October of 2018. While the park’s message received a lot of support, many posters reacted with angry comments.

“Your rules suck!” wrote one critic. “I see no harm.”

Painted rocks called vandalism in Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park posted this collection of painted rocks on its Facebook page in 2018 when it urged people to keep painted rocks out of the park. The painted rocks, considered vandalism by the park, continue to be left in Acadia. (NPS Photo)

“People are never happy until they have something to bitch about,” said another fan of painted rocks. “I mean something as small as a rock, so stupid. Let the people have fun.”

More people are advocating painted rocks in Acadia, judging by a jump in Facebook posts in 2020 about placing or finding painted rocks in Acadia that appeared in a search on Midcoast Maine Rocks.

The Acadia National Park vandalism could be a sign that boorish and disrespectful behavior by park visitors is increasing in 2020 during the pandemic.

Angie Bouchard, a Bar Harbor native and assistant librarian at the Conners Emerson School in Bar Harbor, received 90 comments on a Facebook post in early August when she wrote about the litter she spotted – a sanitary napkin, several poopy paper towels, and a used large band-aid – on a hike around the southernmost shore of Eagle Lake and her encounters with some unusually rude people this summer. Bouchard stated that she has seen an increase in litter during the pandemic but mostly in the form of face masks.

Litter, rude behavior could be increasing during pandemic

On the “Acadia National Park Hiking” Facebook group page, hosted by this blog, Bouchard wrote that she has seen a man swimming in Long Pond near a “no swimming” sign for the public water source. She or friends have seen people riding bicycles on paths that prohibit bikes including Shore Path, the boardwalk on Jesup Path, the Cadillac South Ridge Trail and McFarland Mountain.

Bouchard, who has hiked all 45 miles of the park’s carriage roads and all the maintained trails on Mount Desert Island, said she has seen some offensive conduct that seem to stretch the bounds of decency.

During an evening walk at Sieur de Monts, she and her husband saw four young people setting up a tent along Hemlock Road near the beginning of Homans Path, a blatant location for an illegal camp site. The park’s campgrounds are closed during the COVID-19 pandemic and the park bars backcountry camping.

acadia national park vandalism

As seen along a hike up the Parkman Mountain Trail in August, a tossed dog poop bag.

On another day at Jordan Pond, a group of college-aged men were loudly cheering for a friend who was hanging upside down on the metal pipe across the top of the dam at the outlet for the pond.

Bouchard said some visitors act like they “seem to being entitled to a vacation here, after having been in more stressful lockdown conditions earlier in the pandemic.” Acadia, the only national park in the Northeast, may also be attracting a different demographic, or people who might normally vacation elsewhere and now are seeking time in the outdoors and may be unaware of how their actions affect others and the environment, Bouchard wrote.

Bouchard is not alone in being alarmed at bad conduct.

Former park ranger Maureen Fournier, who regularly hikes in Acadia, said she was outraged last week when she and family members visited the point at the Eagle Lake boat launch and looked back to see two men in bathing suits swimming right in front of the “no swimming” sign for the public water supply.

“I yelled from our vantage point not to go in, no swimming!” Fournier wrote in an email. “My daughter went over and had to explain that this was our drinking water and for crying out loud, there is a pandemic going on. They scoffed her off but got out.”

Toby Ferdyn of Exeter, NH, who has vacationed with his family in Acadia every year for the past decade, including the last two weeks in July, wrote on Facebook that the park was less crowded this year, but he was saddened by “an overall lack of respect” for the park and other users, especially with drivers speeding or distracted on the Park Loop Road and other roads.

“Users were a bit more self-absorbed and self-entitled than I remembered,” he wrote in a Facebook message.

More examples of unsightly Acadia National Park vandalism

Vandals painted this rogue blaze on Champlain Mountain in Acadia National Park

This photo, taken in July on the Champlain North Ridge Trail, shows a vandal’s spray painted, greenish-blue blaze just above the park’s official blue blaze on a rock on the trail.

This crude marker was spray painted by a vandal near Schoodic Head in Acadia National Park

This crude directional marker was spray painted by a vandal near Schoodic Head in Acadia National Park.

Litter can be nauseating for hikers on the Beehive Trail in Acadia National Park

This tissue, stuck in a crevice on the Beehive Trail, was a nauseating sight for hikers who climbed the iconic peak on a sunny Friday morning in August.

Vandal leaves mark near Schoodic Head in Acadia National Park

A vandal left this illegal blaze off the Schoodic Head Trail in Acadia National Park. It is believed the same vandal struck on several park trails on Mount Desert Island.

acadia national park vandalism

Face-mask litter seen along the Beehive Trail.

acadia national park vandalism

One of the longest spray-painted graffiti seen in July along the Champlain North Ridge Trail.

acadia national park vandalism

As big as a man’s foot.

26 thoughts on “Rash of Acadia National Park vandalism: Illegal blazes, painted rocks

  1. Kii

    I wish I could say Acadia is alone with this. After seeing the outright rudeness and idiocy of park visitors, their litter and their desecration of natural resources at various NPS sites across the country this past August, I start to wonder if there needs to be not just a park entrance fee, but a membership that can be revoked for actions like this.

    Besides the gross litter of masks, tissues, wipes, cigarette butts and more, I got to witness people swimming in no swimming areas (including some of the springs at Ozark), people feeding and trying to pet prairie dogs (at Badlands) and people off trail and potentially damaging mounds (Effigy Mounds). This kind of ignorance is sadly nothing new, and I came across an older man showing a younger boy (grandfather and grandson?) how to chip off stone with a knife at Mount Rushmore two years ago, and I’m not even going to talk about the Darwin award contenders inviting bison to gore them at Yellowstone during that 2018 trip.

    There apparently will always be people who are too selfish to understand how their actions can affect anything or anyone else, and only severe repercussions will prevent them from continuing their destructive ways.

    Reply
    1. Acadia on my mind Post author

      Kii – Thanks for sharing your disheartening experiences with rude and ignorant people in national parks in multiple states during the summer of 2020. It makes us wonder if people have progressed since the first Earth Day in 1970.

      Reply
  2. Elaine Koufman

    I know now. Thank you. Can’t wait to use that platform next visit. Are there other places besides Cadillac that have ADA spaces?

    Reply
  3. Elaine Koufman

    Those of us with special needs would not be able to enjoy what is seen from cars since beautiful hikes are no longer possible.

    Reply
    1. Acadia on my mind Post author

      Thanks for raising the issue of access for the physically disabled or others with special needs, Elaine. Great point. How many people even know there is an access ramp and path on Cadillac summit to serve the physically challenged? The pink-tinged cement path, able to be used by people with wheelchairs or walkers, leads to a viewing platform for islands after passing by the plaque for Stephen Mather, first NPS director who suffered from disabling bouts of manic depression.

      Reply
  4. Alice MacDonald Long

    I’ll bet the founders of the park are either laughing or turning over in their graves. They fought to keep cars out of the park!!!

    Reply
    1. Acadia on my mind Post author

      Thanks, Alice. MDI did fight this battle over cars about a century ago as you point out, but perhaps a new one is needed. It must have been a great treat to hike Acadia in May when the Park Loop Road was closed to motor vehicles and there were some nice weather days.

      Reply
    1. Acadia on my mind Post author

      Thanks for the comment, Michael. No question the environment would benefit if Acadia was closed to automobiles.

      Reply
  5. Courtney

    My husband and I were baffled by the conflicting blazes on the Schoodic head trail. This article explains why that occurred. Thank you for your thoughtful coverage of these unfortunate incidences. This publicity will hopefully help all to be on the lookout and the vandalism will stop.

    Reply
    1. Acadia on my mind Post author

      Courtney: This spray-paint vandalism is puzzling when you see it. The last thing on your mind is that someone might be vandalizing the rocks in Acadia. You and your husband are sharp to see things that others might not notice and that is a good thing. Thank you for reading this story and your suggestion for others to be on the lookout.

      Reply
  6. Elaine Koufman

    In a country where there is a lack of respect for the law, it does not surprise me that even one of the most beautiful natural areas of USA is being desecrated by it’s visitors.
    Very sad to read this article.
    If I were 20 years younger I would come to help clean up.

    Reply
    1. Acadia on my mind Post author

      Thank you for weighing in on this topic, Elaine. It is demoralizing to see vandalism, especially in a national park. Acadia NP is at least fortunate that it has a law enforcement staff and a trails crew to address this spray-paint vandalism. It’s great to have the paint cleaned up on the trails of Acadia and to have dedicated volunteers to tackle some of the work. This type of vandalism is likely occurring in the White Mtn. National Forest, state parks maybe and elsewhere, and we wonder if the staff in those areas is able to clean it up and even try to catch the vandals.

      Reply
  7. Craig

    Perhaps, if these people are caught, they are required to help lay some new trail. I saw the workers on Razorback. They got there around 6:30am, hiked up to the part of the trail they were working on, stayed all day, moving heavy rocks to make steps/stairs. if these people that come to the park and treat it like garbage, were made to build trail they may think twice next time about throwing away masks or spray painting.
    As for the little rocks of inspiration, i’m not condoning it, but at this time, with a pandemic, It was a sweet idea to make people feel happy. I didn’t see any on the trails, but did see some at our campground (privately owned on the island). it was a little ray of sunshine to lift spirits but I understand, respect and abide by the leave no trace motto.

    Reply
    1. Acadia on my mind Post author

      Thanks for the comment and highlighting the difficult work of the Acadia trails crew. It is tough and often dangerous work. It is a simple rule — Leave No Trace — and it is also easy to abide by it. Great comment, Craig.

      Reply
  8. James Linnane

    Shocking to say the least. Perhaps these folks want to “improve” their experience of Acadia. They might get more satisfaction out of volunteering with Friends of Acadia.

    Reply
    1. Acadia on my mind Post author

      Thanks, Jim. It is great that you are back in Mount Desert. Yes, this is very weird vandalism. You wonder how someone got away with spray painting so many rocks on North Champlain Ridge Trail, especially. In August, the park started using an organic paint remover to wash away the greenish-blue marks and that seems to have worked well. It was a lot of work, though, by volunteers Mark Munsell and Jerry Hopcroft. Both are skilled carpenters, juding by their past work for the park, but not above the hard basic work it took to clean the granite on Champlain and Huguenot Head.

      Reply
    1. Acadia on my mind Post author

      Thanks, Matt. It’s important to air this type of extensive vandalism in the media, and maybe someone will step up and report the person responsible for this conduct. As the article states, the vandalism occurred in 2019 on Bald and Champlain and was just removed from Champlain and Huguenot Head in August. More of the same type of vandalism still needs to be removed at Schoodic Head.

      Reply
  9. Alice MacDonald Long

    First I felt anger, then I felt sad that people don’t understand all that goes into keeping our park safe and beautiful. If they understood how many volunteers spend thousands of hours maintaining the park. I wish I had an answer besides fines because the people who don’t appreciate the park who get caught will only come back and vandalize more. Perhaps make them spend x number of hours working restoring the damage.

    Reply
    1. Acadia on my mind Post author

      Great point, Alice. It is amazing when you think of all the volunteers — Waldron’s Warriors, Summit stewards and other Friends of Acadia efforts to improve and protect the park. The FOA is the envy of every other national park in the country.

      Reply
    1. Acadia on my mind Post author

      Thanks for this comment, Maureen, and contributing to this story with a shocking account of people swimming in a public water supply in flagrant violation of health rules during a health emergency.

      Reply
  10. Sydney Roberts Rockefeller

    I am sickened to hear this news. I have lots of outrageous retorts to these descriptions, but just want to offer a hand(s) by volunteering when you need it. I worked at the T in Boston running the Public Art program years ago. The sight of graffiti that eventually ruined most of the art work was really disheartening.

    By the way, a doctor friend of mine said it was fine for me to pick up the masks off the street, rocks, etc. Just be sure to wash your hands afterward. Come on friends, please help, not hurt.

    Reply
    1. Acadia on my mind Post author

      Thanks for commenting, Sydney, and underscoring the gravity of this senseless and heartbreaking vandalism on some Acadia National Park trails. Thanks also for sharing your personal experience about trying to deal with the dispiriting effects of graffiti while running the public art program for the MBTA in Boston. You are right, too, that we can all make an impact if we take the proper precautions and pick up litter while hiking. We will be sure to follow up on this story if the park finds the person responsible.

      Reply

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