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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
“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.
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.