New Acadia hiking trails foreman takes reins at key time
A new foreman is leading the way for work on Acadia hiking trails.
David Schlag, a 14-year veteran of the crew, is taking over as Acadia National Park trails crew foreman at a time when the park is facing some headwinds: trail damage from extreme weather events, increasing wear and tear on the trails with record crowds and a continuing shortage of seasonal workers.
Schlag will also oversee what could be one of the more transformational projects in years for Acadia hiking trails. The National Park Service is planning several trail extensions and a rehabilitation of the birch-lined Hemlock Path to make it more accessible, possibly with a boardwalk, as part of a more comprehensive effort to restore the Great Meadow.
New Acadia trails crew foreman began as seasonal laborer
Acadia National Park Superintendent Kevin Schneider on Monday announced the appointment of Schlag as foreman of the trails crew, during a meeting of the Acadia National Park Advisory Commission. Schneider noted that the promotion came from within. “Great to see him move up into the supervisor role,” Schneider said.
Schlag replaces Gary Stellpflug, who retired last year after more than 35 years as foreman. Keith Johnston, Acadia’s chief of maintenance, appointed Schlag as the new foreman after an extensive process that involved candidates on the crew serving acting stints as foreman.
Schlag started as a seasonal laborer on the trails crew and rose to become a crew leader about 2014. Now, as foreman, he will oversee maintenance of some 155 miles of Acadia hiking trails on Mount Desert Island, the Schoodic Peninsula and Isle au Haut. He cited a culture of “big collaboration” on the trail crew, with people learning from others and then passing along those skills and knowledge.
“I just kind of worked my way up and just kept showing up every day and working, learning and learning,” he said in an interview. “I worked with a lot of great people that just kind of taught me what they knew every season.”
“I am really excited,” Schlag said when asked how he felt about his new position overseeing Acadia hiking trails. “We have got a great crew here and I am so happy to kind of take the reins.”
Originally from Scituate, Mass., Schlag is married to Lacey Schlag, a teacher at the Pemetic Elementary School in Southwest Harbor.
Acadia hiking trails work challenged by labor shortages, floods
During an interview outside the trails crew trailer, Schlag talked about some key projects underway this year and how the trails crew is operating with a reduced seasonal labor force and dealing with the effects of rainstorms and spring floods.
Schlag said the park is contracting with the professional trail crew of the Appalachian Mountain Club for some trail work in Acadia, primarily the Great Meadow trails as part of the restoration project, maybe starting in the fall. He said outside help is needed partly because of a shortage of seasonal staff on the park trails crew during a hyper-competitive labor market in the trades. The park has contracted with the AMC crew in the past, including work to finish Seaside Path.
“They have worked with us for a long time, long before I started here,” he said. “They have got pretty similar territory up in the White Mountains so they are used to doing a lot of granite work and similar trail work. it definitely helps when we have a lack of labor .. to bring a crew like that in. They jibe with us pretty good.”
Schlag said the trail crew only has 10 or 11 members this year, which he said is pretty small for the crew. In 2021, for example, the crew had 17 members.
The park as a whole had 175 seasonal positions open this year, but it only filled about 115, according to the superintendent, with particular problems in recruiting from the trades for trails crew members, heavy equipment operators and custodians.
Floods in Great Meadow prompt major work on Jesup Path
The trails crew saw firsthand the damaging effects of climate change this spring when the Great Meadow flooded and the waters submerged Jesup Path, a 130-year-old path originally built by George B. Dorr, the father of Acadia National Park, and the Bar Harbor Village Improvement Association. The floods lifted and bent much of a 0.3-mile boardwalk that is part of the path, and floated away some trail bridges on the northern end of the path.
Jeff Chapin, a trails crew supervisor, said that the floods were the highest he’s seen in the Great Meadow and they raised the boardwalk about three feet. When the waters receded, the boardwalk did not set back into the ground as constructed and became crooked in some sections, he said.
Over several days, trail workers used jacks to lift one side of the boardwalk and then shoved or pulled it back into place and allowed it to settle.
The trails crew built the boardwalk in 2009 with a floating design, Chapin said, and it helped that they knew the intricacies of the walkway when repairing it, he said. The boardwalk is built so that when the frost arrives, it floats on its wide footings, or support boxes, that sit on the ground, and then settle with the spring thaw, he said.
On the northern end of Jesup Path, Chapin said he and Isaac Smith, a work leader on the Acadia trails crew, waded waist- and chest-deep into the flooded Great Meadow in April to retrieve foot bridges that had floated away. Chapin said they secured the bridges and waited until the flood waters receded to repair and install the bridges, a job completed in early June with the help of a mini-excavator purchased for the trails crew by the Friends of Acadia.
Even with that success, a freak rain storm at the end of August flooded Jesup Path again and forced a closure for about a week, according to the park’s web site. It’s been a summer of extraordinary rainfall, with potentially more on Saturday from Hurricane Lee.
New connector trails, other work, planned for Great Meadow Loop
The Acadia trails crew is also preparing for some major trail work as part of the restoration of the Great Meadow, the largest freshwater wetland in Acadia, expected to start in 2024.
The main part of the overall restoration of the Great Meadow will be to install a new 12-foot wide culvert at the Park Loop Road, along with grade improvements, to reduce the height of floods in the wetlands caused by large rainstorms and to improve water retention. The park is expected to hire an outside contractor for the culvert work.
Schlag said the AMC trail crew is set to be hired for some work on the Great Meadow Loop, which is slated for an additional 1,500 feet of new connector trails, according to the environmental assessment for the Great Meadow restoration.
The work on the loop would include building a missing segment along Kebo Street that crosses both park land and the Kebo Valley Golf Course, and extending the gravel trail along Great Meadow Drive to connect with a pedestrian bridge and sidewalk at Bar Harbor’s Cromwell Brook Bridge, according to the assessment.
Hemlock Path, which goes through a canopy of birch trees in the Great Meadow, is set for a substantial overhaul to allow for use by the physically disabled, and correct drainage issues, the assessment noted. Part of the path might include a new boardwalk, Chapin said.
The work calls for digging up and replacing 18 rusted metal culverts on Hemlock Path, an old road that starts at the north end of the Sieur de Monts parking area and connects to the Park Loop Road.
Maple Spring Trail reopens, undergoes rehab; Jordan Pond trail work
The trails crew, with help from volunteers, also is currently rehabilitating a section of the Maple Spring Trail that washed out in a June 9, 2021, rainstorm, called one of the more exceptional weather events in Acadia’s history. In the aftermath of that mega-storm, it was unclear if the trail, which ascends steeply up Sargent Mountain, would reopen.
But the trail reopened this year with caution signs. Rehabilitation of the Acadia hiking trail began in July, with the work including 3 new wooden bridges to replace spans destroyed in the storm.
The work also includes rebuilding some stone steps and collapsed sections on the Maple Spring Trail, Schlag said. About half the intricate stone work was destroyed in the 2021 storm.
At Jordan Pond, a growing flood of visitors prompted another key project on Acadia hiking trails.
The project’s centerpiece is a new pavestone viewing area at the south end of the pond at a busy intersection that draws crowds of bicyclists from carriage roads, hikers, visitors at the Jordan Pond House, and others, to a beautiful view of the Bubbles. The area was becoming totally overrun and required a hard surface partly to protect the shoreline and water quality of the pond, Chapin said.
The crew also rehabilitated a separate trail that connects the south end of the pond with the Jordan Pond House, including new gravel, 33 longer granite steps laid into the trail and a split rail fence. The work funnels people away from a field that was getting trampled and makes the trail function better, Chapin added.
On the Quiet Side, work continues on Beech Mountain trails
The crew is also continuing work in the area of Beech Mountain on the west side of Mount Desert Island, often known as the Quiet Side.
On the west side of the Beech Mountain Loop, the main goal of a project is to improve drainage and control erosion on the trail, possibly an old jeep road, which in recent years turned into a big gulch in one section, Schlag said.
The crew built grade dips and dug ditches with big inside drains to collect and channel water runoff, he added. The crew plans to gravel the surface in the fall, he added.
Farther along the west side of the loop trail, the Acadia Youth Conservation Corps was charged with building 60 to 70 feet of timber walkway, or check steps, to provide better footing in an area that is often slick and wet, Schlag said.
In recent years, the trails crew has done extensive, similar work around Beech Mountain including restoring the once badly-eroded approach to the steel fire tower on the mountain, stone work on the Beech South Ridge Trail and more recently about 100 new or reset steps on the Beech West Ridge Trail in 2022.
The Beech West Ridge Trail work, led by Chris Fabian, exemplifies the crafted stone masonry that helps give the Acadia trail crew a nationwide reputation for excellence in trail building.