Acadia hiking trails added to the national historic register

Acadia National Park hiking trails received a special honor on Friday when they were added to the National Register of Historic Places, closing an effort that park officials launched more than 20 years ago, and establishing the largest hiking trail system on the federal list of places worth preserving.

Otter Creek, Mount Desert

Frederic Church of the Hudson River School painted this scene of Cadillac and Dorr mountains around 1850, an historically significant vista still visible today behind Acadia’s Fabbri Memorial. (Image from National Park Service/National Register of Historic Places Registration Form)

Placed on the register as “The Mount Desert Island Hiking Trail System, ” the Acadia National Park network consists of 109 maintained trails and paths covering about 117 miles.  The Acadia hiking trails system also includes 18 memorial plaques or markers along the trails and 12 iconic viewpoints from the trails, according to the system’s sweeping nomination report for the historic register.

“Acadia National Park now has the largest system of trails to be listed in the National Register of Historic Places,” Kevin Schneider, Superintendent of Acadia National Park, said. “This recognition is a testament to not only the historic significance of these trails, but also the incredible dedication of the National Park Service staff, partners and volunteers who continue to preserve them.”

The system of trails is historically significant partly because of its strong connections to the Hudson River School of artists in the mid-1800s and the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.

Gary Stellpflug, longtime foreman of the Acadia trails crew who worked on the nomination, confirmed the approval on the national register of historic places, calling it “very exciting” and  worthy of “fireworks and champagne.”

“We had a lot of people pushing for it,” Stellpflug said. “I feel incredibly elated. It’s been a long time coming. This trail system deserves that recognition and protection.”

Acadia hiking trails join Lincoln Memorial, other sites on register

Acadia National Park Hiking Trails

A map of the Mount Desert Island Hiking Trail System, which includes 117 miles of historic trails located all or partially within the boundaries of Acadia National Park. (Map from National Park Service/National Register of Historic Places Registration Form)

Roger G. Reed, keeper of the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places, signed the 173-page nomination report and entered the Acadia National Park hiking trails into the register on Friday, according to a copy of the form.

The Acadia National Park hiking trails system includes only those hiking trails that are currently marked and maintained by the National Park Service, the nomination report said. It does not include trails that are entirely on land outside the park, trails constructed after 1942, or trails in the Schoodic Peninsula and Isle au Haut areas of the park.

The National Register is the official list of the country’s historic places deserving of preservation, and includes more than 96,000 sites of significance, from national monuments like the Lincoln Memorial to archaeological sites from Alabama to Wyoming.

The Acadia hiking trails system is located in five municipalities – Bar Harbor, the town of Mount Desert, Southwest Harbor, Tremont and Gouldsboro – and also includes continuous segments of trails that go beyond park boundaries, according to the Maine Historic Preservation Commission, which supported the nomination and oversees the administration of the federal program in Maine.

Hudson River School artists immortalized Mount Desert Island

Cloudy Day by Alfred Bricher

Paintings by Alfred Thompson Bricher, like this one of Great Head, helped put Mount Desert Island on the national map in the late 19th century. (Photo from National Park Service/National Register of Historic Places Registration Form)

The Acadia National Park hiking trails system met certain criteria needed to qualify for the National Register including its connection to significant events in history mainly the Hudson River School of landscape artists led by painter Thomas Cole who arrived on Mount Desert Island in 1844. Cole was followed by other artists, including his student Frederic Church, and Alfred Thompson Bricher, a New Hampshire native whose works helped put the island on the national map.

The artists created a network of trails with scenic vistas and viewpoints that inspired their writings and art and attracted “rusticators,” or tourists who further developed the trail system between 1866 and 1890 and helped turned Bar Harbor into a summer tourist haven and a mecca for the well-to-do, the nomination report noted.

Village improvement groups, including those in Bar Harbor, Northeast Harbor and Southwest Harbor, which constructed or improved trails from 1890 to 1937, some with memorial plaques, also represented a key time in history and met criteria for community planning and involvement in history.

acadia national park hiking

The Perpendicular Trail with its approximately 500 stone steps is one of the historic trails built by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

The Civilian Conservation Corps, a New Deal jobs program by President Franklin D. Roosevelt  that supplied labor for the National Park Service to build trails between 1933 and 1942, was noted for use of a “rustic style” that complied with criteria for a certain method of construction and representation of important history.

Many of the Acadia National Park hiking trails are noted for their crafted stone steps and staircases and for bringing people over summits and along lakes to dramatic scenery in Downeast Maine.  Most of the trails – 83 out of the 109 – are on the eastern side of the island.

Acadia National Park hiking trails largest system on historic register

Coast at Mount Desert Island by Frederic Church

Paintings like this one by Frederic Church helped energize the effort to create Acadia National Park. (Photo from National Park Service/National Register of Historic Places Registration Form)

While many individual hiking trails, almost all in the West, are on the register of historic places, the Mount Desert Island network is by far the largest system of hiking trails on the historic register, according to a list provided by the National Park Service. The Mount Desert Island trails constitute the first property called “a trail system” on the national register.

On the East Coast, only six other trails are on the register including Marginal Way in Ogunquit, which was just added in March; the Arnold Trail to Quebec, which includes a short segment on the Appalachian Trail in Maine; and the Anhinga Trail in Everglades National Park.

People are also working to put the Appalachian Trail, which goes from Georgia to Maine and is a National Scenic Trail, on the National Register.

Other trails on the National Register are Utah’s Bryce Canyon National Park Scenic Trails Historic District, a continuous network of five trails built between 1917 and 1935, and Montana’s Glacier National Park Tourist Trails, which are three trails that connect a series of century-old tourist camps and hotels. Neither is close in size to the system on Mount Desert Island. About 10 individual trails are on the National Register in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado and about seven in Zion National Park in Utah.

Friends of Acadia contributions noted in nomination report

In winning approval of the nomination, Stellpflug credited the work of Gail Gladstone, cultural resource program manager at Acadia for seven years.

acadia hiking trails

Gary Stellpflug, Acadia trails crew foreman, in front of the wall-sized version of the Mount Desert Island Hiking Trails System map included in the National Register of Historic Places nomination report.

“There were some starts but we just never had the time and the energy to push it through,” he said. “I think a lot of that goes to Gail Gladstone for working on it and not to fault those before us at all, it’s just that I think there was a right combination of people and time to make it happen.”

Stellpflug, who plans to retire in a couple of months after more than 35 years as foreman of the trails crew, said the National Register is a fitting way to cap his career.

Because the listing on the National Register only covers events to 1942, it did not include then-President Barack Obama’s truly historic visit to Acadia National Park in July 2010. Obama, the only sitting president to ever visit Acadia, and his family hiked several trails including Ship Harbor, Cadillac Summit Loop and Bass Harbor Head Light.

President Barack Obama on Ship Harbor Trail

It was not a factor in the addition of Acadia trails to the National Register of Historic Places, but Barack Obama’s visit to Acadia National Park was truly historic. Obama, the only sitting president to visit Acadia, is shown on the pink granite off the Acadia coast during his family’s vacation in 2010. (Photo from Records of White House Photo Office)

The nomination report, prepared by historians with the Public Archaeology Laboratory in Pawtucket, RI, also notes the contributions of the Friends of Acadia, a non-profit organization created in 1986. Friends of Acadia has helped connect the park with neighboring communities, increased funding and organized volunteers.

The effort to list the Acadia hiking trails on the register stems from at least as far back as 2001, when the park service and the Maine Historic Preservation Commission agreed that the Mount Desert Island Hiking Trail System was eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. The 2006 “Pathmakers,” and the “Acadia Trails Treatment Plan,” reports by the NPS’s Olmsted Center for Landscape Preservation in Boston on the trails’ historical significance, helped lay the groundwork for the nomination.

Acadia National Park hiking trails recognized for cultural importance

The listing gives official recognition of the historic and cultural importance of the trails as part of the nation’s heritage that should be preserved, according to the Maine commission. Federal agencies such as the National Park Service must allow the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, an independent federal agency, a chance to comment on all projects affecting historic properties in the register.

The listing qualifies the Acadia hiking trails system for federal grants for historic preservation when funds are available.

Christian Barter of Acadia Trail Crew

Christian Barter, an Acadia trail crew supervisor, builds a stone wall by hand off Ocean Path, an historic trail built mostly by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Barter said crew members rehabilitate trails like Ocean Path as closely as possible to the historic period in which they were built.

In maintaining the Acadia hiking trails and paths, members of the trails crew have long sought to construct and rehabilitate to the historically significant period of when they were built by the village improvement groups and the Civilian Conservation Corps.

“We have already been adhering to the standards that one needs to in order to do historical rehabilitation,’’ said Christian Barter, a trail crew supervisor, while working on improvements to the Ocean Path on Tuesday. “It won’t change much of what we do.”

Village improvement groups key to history of Acadia hiking trails

Acadia hiking trails entered into the National Register of Historic Places.

Historic signing: In a huge victory for Acadia hiking trails, Roger G. Reed, keeper of the National Register of Historic Places, certified that the Mount Desert Island Hiking Trail System is entered in the National Register. (Provided by NPS)

The historic trail system is organized into four geographical areas corresponding to the jurisdictions of the four village groups that developed and maintained the trails in the early 20th century: the Bar Harbor Village Improvement Association, the Seal Harbor Village Improvement Society, Northeast Harbor VIS, and Southwest Harbor VIA.

The Bar Harbor district includes 39 trails such as Cadillac North Ridge, the Beehive, the Precipice and the Ladder Trail; Seal Harbor, 26 trails including Cadillac West Face, Day Mountain and Jordan Pond Path; Northeast Harbor, 17 trails including Asticou & Jordan Pond Path; Bald Peak and the Giant Slide; and Southwest Harbor, 27 trails, including Acadia Mountain Trail, Beech Cliff Loop Trail, Bernard Mountain and the Perpendicular Trail.

precipice trail

The Precipice Trail is just one of the historically significant – and arguably the scariest – trails in the Mount Desert Island Hiking Trail System.

The hiking trails system joins many sites in Acadia National Park approved in the past for the National Register of Historic Places, including Bass Harbor Head Light Station, built in 1858, the Baker Island Light Station, with the tower built in 1855, and Bear Island Light Station, built in 1839.

Also on the National Register are the 160-acre Blackwoods Campground including the entrance road and campsites on Loop A, and the 120-acre Seawall Campground, including loops A, B and C, the latter loop built to accommodate camp trailers at the urging of park founder George B. Dorr. The Civilian Conservation Corps built both campgrounds.

Other Acadia locations on the National Register include the 1,083-acre Schoodic Peninsula Historic District, including hiking trails and the loop road, and the park’s 45 miles of carriage roads, as well as bridges and gatehouses, financed by John D. Rockefeller Jr.

National Register of Historic Places Registration Form

for the Mount Desert Island Hiking Trail System