Category Archives: Hiking

Hiking in Acadia National Park.

Work on historic hiking paths in Acadia steps up for high season

On Ocean Path in Acadia National Park, trails crew supervisor Christian Barter knelt on the ground on a sunny morning in April while he built a new retaining wall, aiming to protect the trail from climate and the relentless pounding of hikers.

Christian Barter of Acadia Trail Crew

Much of the work on Acadia hiking trails is still done by hand, as demonstrated by Christian Barter in building a new stone side wall along Ocean Path.

“You have to think about every bit of edge along that trail and how you can make it permanent, so that it will hold the surface in between the edges,” said Barter, who started on the Acadia trails crew in 1989 and has been a supervisor for about 23 years. “It is just a matter of going through every spot.”

Work on the historic hiking paths and trails in Acadia is stepping up as the numbers of people on Ocean Path and other trails is set to climb in the months ahead. With Acadia attracting more than 4 million visits in 2021, keeping the trails in shape is an on-going process.

The National Park Service opened the full 27-mile Park Loop Road at Acadia on Friday, including the summit road to Cadillac Mountain, which will require a vehicle reservation starting May 25. The park’s 45-mile carriage road system, which was closed for mud season, reopened to pedestrians on April 12, but not yet to bicyclists or horses.

The opening of the loop road and carriage road system increases access to trailheads and historic hiking paths in Acadia and heralds the start of another tourist season. It’s also the beginning of a busy time for the Acadia trails crew, charged with maintaining and rehabilitating the 155 miles of hiking trails in the first national park east of the Mississippi.

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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.”

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Gary Stellpflug, steward of Acadia hiking trails, to retire

UPDATE on 2/15/2022: Reaction from Jack Russell was added.

UPDATE on 2/18/2022: Gary Stellpflug thanks people for their comments on his planned retirement.

Gary J. Stellpflug, longtime foreman of the Acadia National Park Trails Crew, said he is planning to retire from the National Park Service this year, after leading a sweeping rehabilitation of the historic Acadia hiking trails during his tenure.

acadia hiking trails

Gary Stellpflug, Acadia trails foreman, inspects the damage done to a bridge on the Hadlock Brook Trail by an “exceptional” storm on June 9, 2021, attributed by the National Park Service to climate change. (Photo courtesy of Gary Stellpflug)

“I’ve been here long enough,” Stellpflug said in an exclusive interview. “It’s time for somebody else to step in.”

He said there is no exact date for his retirement, but it will be before the start of a new fiscal year on Oct. 1. He said he wants to help in a transition to a new Acadia hiking trails foreman and is working with Keith Johnston, chief of maintenance, on a succession plan.

Stellpflug, who has been foreman of the Acadia trails crew for more than 35 years, helped launch a major effort to restore and maintain Acadia hiking trails after Acadia became the first national park in the country with an endowment for a trail system.

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Falcon chicks boost resurgence of raptor at Acadia National Park

Update 7/14/2021: Two chicks fledged at each of three nests at Acadia National Park in 2021, or six in total, Patrick Kark, ornithology ranger at Acadia, told us in an email. “It has been a good season,” Kark wrote to us. “Glad all three sites made it through some extreme weather events. Two major rainstorms and an extreme heat wave. It is also nice to see fledglings back at the Precipice since they had failed in 2020.”

Thirty years after the first peregrine falcon chicks hatched during Acadia National Park reintroduction efforts, the raptor continues an amazing recovery, with month-old chicks spotted in several nests this year, and new park statistics underscoring their comeback.

Patrick Kark, ornithology ranger at Acadia, recently released a chart on the total number of peregrine falcon chicks fledged at Acadia since 1991 in four cliff-top sites including 78 at the Precipice; 31 at Jordan Cliffs; 27 at Valley Cove; and 24 at Beech Cliff.

peregrine falcon Precipice Trail

Perched atop a pink granite cliff on the Precipice of Champlain Mountain, a peregrine falcon blends in with the gray rockface, as seen during the Acadia Birding Festival earlier this month. The falcon’s yellow beak and talons contrast with the dark gray of the falcon’s back.

“Through having all these nesting sites in park, as of 2020, 160 peregrine falcon fledglings have flown from Acadia, which is a huge number, huge success story,” Kark said during a webinar held last month by the Western Maine chapter of Maine Audubon.

Peregrine falcon chicks are set to fledge at three nests this year, Kark wrote in an email last week. There are no confirmed numbers yet, but peregrine falcon chicks are known to be on the Precipice, at Jordan Cliffs above Jordan Pond and at the Valley Cove Cliffs above Somes Sound, Kark wrote. Chicks appear to be around 30 days old, he wrote.

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Maine virtual racer’s road to recovery from COVID-19

Kathy Dixon-Wallace starts work at 6:30 am to teach middle school science in Milo and likes to run half marathons and hike long distances during the summers.

Kathy Dixon-Wallace on Mt. Katahdin

Kathy Dixon-Wallace on Mount Katahdin in Maine after a hike in 2018, part of her 1,071-day virtual race streak. (Photo provided by Kathy Dixon-Wallace)

A participant since 2017 in the Acadia to Katahdin Virtual Race, she logged over 1,000 straight days of exercise, averaging more than 5 miles a day, almost always running.

She said she liked to think she was unstoppable – until she was struck by COVID-19 last month.

“COVID kind of knocked me on my butt,” Dixon-Wallace, a teacher for 14 years at the Penquis Valley Middle School in Milo, said in a phone interview. “It is scary and it is an unknown.”

Known by her Acadia to Katahdin virtual race name of @KDW, Dixon-Wallace has helped raise funds for Friends of Acadia, Millinocket Memorial Library, and other charities through her participation in the virtual race, and has run the real-life Mount Desert Island Half Marathon once, and the real-life Millinocket Half Marathon three times.

But perhaps the toughest challenge of all has been her recovery from COVID-19. Continue reading

Mixed views on vehicle reservation system at Acadia

A trial run of the Acadia National Park vehicle reservation system received mixed reactions from visitors, with some cheering the new requirement for reducing traffic congestion and making it easier to access Cadillac and Sand Beach and others criticizing it as too heavy-handed.

Vehicle reservation sign at Acadia National Park

Signs like this one at the Hulls Cove Visitor Center were posted at key spots in Acadia National Park to educate visitors about the vehicle reservation system.

Under the pilot, which started Oct.1 and ends Sunday, Oct. 18, vehicle reservations were required from 4:30 am to 6:30 pm for the summit road at Cadillac Mountain and from 7 am to 5 pm for the Sand Beach Entrance including access to Sand Beach, Thunder Hole and other spots along a two-mile section of the Park Loop Road.

The vehicle reservation system faced intense pressure over the Indigenous Peoples’ Day weekend when some of the biggest crowds of the season descended on Acadia during sunny days on Saturday and Sunday, clogging some areas of the park. Acadia sold more than 4,000 vehicle reservations on one day alone over the weekend, according to a park spokesperson.

People with reservations praised the system because it shrunk the time to enter Sand Beach Entrance Station and the Cadillac Summit Road and took the edge off finding parking.

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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.

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Acadia hiking accident is new ordeal for New York nurses

Kerrie Molloy and John Candela visited Bar Harbor last month to unwind after working on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic in New York, but the longtime nurses instead faced a new crisis in a horrifying Acadia hiking accident while descending Pemetic Mountain.

Rescue on Pemetic Mountain in Acadia National Park

MDI Search & Rescue veteran Steven Hudson, wearing an orange shirt and white helmet, helps save Kerrie Molloy, seriously injured in a slip and fall on the west side of Pemetic Mountain. Molloy and her significant other, John Candela, can be seen below Hudson in the lower center right of the photo. Hudson and other rescue personnel are wearing masks for safety during the pandemic. (Photo by MDI Search & Rescue team member Lili Pew)

Molloy suffered three broken ribs, a punctured lung and fractured bones when she said she slipped on gravel and tumbled over rocks and boulders for about 15 to 20 feet down a precipitous section of the  Pemetic Northwest Trail in the early afternoon on July 25. After summiting Pemetic, the two experienced hikers were close to finishing their first-ever hike in Acadia National Park. Just about 0.3 mile from the Park Loop Road, Molloy said she was surprised by the treacherous terrain on that section of the trail.

“I was terrified as I fell…. I kept rolling, wondering when I was going to stop,” Molloy said in a phone interview while recuperating at her Staten Island home.

Molloy, a nurse practitioner in urgent care for Advantage Care Physicians in New York, stressed that she is grateful for the “amazing” work of volunteers with MDI Search & Rescue in carrying her safely off the mountain after completing  a rope-and-pulley rescue, responders from the Bar Harbor Fire Department and the chief surgeon at Mount Desert Island Hospital. Molloy said it’s the first time in her more than 30 years in nursing that she found herself on the other side of the table in the operating room.

Hikers on peak of Pemetic Mountain in Acadia National Park

John Candela and Kerrie Molloy stand on the peak of Pemetic Mountain in Acadia on July 25. Molloy later suffered serious injuries during the descent of the peak. (Photo courtesy of John Candela and Kerrie Molloy)

Candela, who lives with Molloy in a longstanding relationship, said he was hiking a little in front of Molloy and scoping out the steep section of trail for a safe way down when he heard her scream. He said he did not see her slip but he watched in fear as she bounced and hit rocks before landing on a ledge against the exposed roots and dirt at the base of a fallen tree.

“I was in shock,” said Candela, who was carrying a backpack with food and water for the both of them. “I was afraid for her because I could see that she was getting seriously hurt as she was falling.”

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Stone stairs hug a giant cliff along the Valley Cove Trail in Acadia National Park

Acadia hiking boosted by new rock steps, innovation, lights

The Valley Cove Trail is set to soon reopen for a summer Acadia hiking season for the first time in five years, following an extensive rehabilitation that gives new life to the historically important trail along Somes Sound.

Somes Sound in Acadia National Park

Hikers can get this view of Somes Sound from the Valley Cove Trail, opening after a major rehabilitation by the Acadia trails crew.

Gary J. Stellpflug, foreman of the Acadia trails crew, which did the work, summed up the completion of the complex and lengthy project, which included resetting or adding more than 300 stone steps along the trail.

“Valley Cove Trail finally opened!” exclaimed Stellpflug in his annual report for “Acadia Trails Forever,” a special endowment fund for trail maintenance and restoration at Acadia National Park started in 2000 by the Friends of Acadia and the park.

The Valley Cove Trail was finished and opened on Nov. 1, but to protect nesting peregrine falcons, it closed in March, as it does each year along with several other trails, including the Precipice and Jordan Cliffs Trail. The trails usually open in early August after chicks fly.

The improvements on the Valley Cove Trail, originally built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the mid-1930s, top a list of Acadia hiking trails rehabbed in 2019 and open for hikers in 2020 including Seaside Path, Bass Harbor Head Light and Kurt Diederich’s Climb.

Acadia hiking trails, totaling about 155 miles, remained open during the pandemic and use picked up after the Park Loop Road opened on June 1.  More hikers hit the park trails after Maine exempted tourists from five states, including New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, from requirements to quarantine or test negative for the virus, according to reports on the Acadia National Park Hiking Facebook group.

Seaside Path in Acadia National Park

Hikers take a Sunday stroll during the pandemic on a newly-improved section of the Seaside Path in Acadia National Park. The wooded 19th-century path connects the Jordan Pond area to a beach at Seal Harbor.

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Acadia National Park during the pandemic: Masks, isolation

Facing a projected decline in visits and revenues from entrance and concession fees, Acadia National Park during the pandemic is opening the Park Loop Road to traffic and offering limited visitor services on June 1, a month and a half later than normal, and bracing for an unprecedented year.

covid-19

Acadia amid COVID-19: First in a series (NPS photo)

Acadia’s season with coronavirus will launch with a closed Hulls Cove Visitor Center, the indefinite postponement of the park’s fare-free shuttle system and a quarantine restriction that stymies most people traveling from other states.

Campgrounds at Acadia National Park during the pandemic are shut down at least through June, new signs will promote social distancing and, starting Monday, rangers will be wearing masks to provide visitor information in open-air tents near the visitor center – but they won’t be selling park passes, as visitors must purchase them online and print a copy ahead of time. The Cadillac Mountain summit is open with no virus-related parking restrictions.

In the wake of the slowest Memorial Day weekend he’s ever witnessed in the area, Fred Ehrlenbach of Trenton, chairman of the Acadia Advisory Commission, predicted that visits and revenues will be down for the national park, which recorded 3.4 million visits in 2019. He cited the looming recession and COVID-19.

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Acadia National Park navigates new era for iconic lighthouse

Acadia National Park is poised “any day now” to take over the vacant Bass Harbor Head Light Station, setting the stage for a new era for the iconic lighthouse, one of the most popular attractions within the park’s boundaries.

Bass Harbor Lighthouse in Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park will be assuming ownership of Bass Harbor Head Light from the Coast Guard “any day now.” (Photo courtesy of Greg Saulmon)

Ahead of becoming the new owner, Acadia is weighing recommendations in a new study of Bass Harbor Head Light by the National Park Service’s Historic Preservation Training Center. The “Bass Harbor Head Light Station Historic Structure Report,” produced with funds donated by the Friends of Acadia, is aimed at guiding future rehabilitation and repair work at the 2.75-acre complex including the original 1858 lighthouse with its cylindrical brick tower, the 1858 keeper’s dwelling, and the 1905 wood-frame garage.

The Coast Guard currently owns the iconic lighthouse and other structures and has been planning to transfer it to Acadia since 2017.

acadia annual pass

So picture-postcard perfect is Bass Harbor Head Light, it graces this year’s $55 Acadia annual pass. (Image courtesy of NPS)

“Apparently, all the paperwork is sitting with the General Services Administration and they need to do sort of the final paperwork to get it to us,” John T. Kelly, management assistant for Acadia National Park, said. “It should have happened a long time ago. It is really any day now but we have been saying any day now for months.”

When it assumes ownership, the National Park Service is hopeful of finding a partner to staff, operate and maintain the lighthouse and other buildings, maybe, for instance, a nonprofit group such as Eastern National, which promotes education of National Parks with books, other products and services, or the Tremont Historical Society, Kelly said.

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Maine virtual race with medals a new way to socially distance

Giving a new meaning to social distancing, the Amazin’ Maine Virtual Race brings far-flung family and friends virtually near, alone together, on a magical virtual tour of Acadia to Katahdin and along the coast from Lubec to Ogunquit.

virtual race with medals

Sign up now and virtually visit special places in Maine. You don’t have to complete the entire course to be a winner, and you can backdate miles to April 16. (Image provided courtesy of Racery)

With Acadia National Park closed until at least June 1 and the cancellation today of what would have been the 20th anniversary of the Friends of Acadia Earth Day Roadside Cleanup, the virtual race with medals helps connect those with a love of the park as they “scale” the 26 peaks of Acadia together, no matter where in the world they’re logging hiking or running miles.

And with many Maine state parks shuttered until at least April 30, and real-life races and festivals cancelled or postponed, the Amazin’ Maine Virtual Race provides a way to experience a virtual Vacationland, show support for Maine organizations, shake off some of the coronavirus cabin-fever blues and stay up on some of the COVID-19 updates.

virtual race with medals

When the new issue of Friends of Acadia Journal lands in your mailbox, you’ll see our announcement about the virtual race.

Sponsored by this blog to help support Friends of Acadia, Millinocket Memorial Library, and a new Robin Emery Prize – named after a Maine Running Hall of Famer and virtual racer who goes by the name of @Fossil, to be awarded to a 5th through 12th-grade girl who runs the Down East Family YMCA’s Main Street Memorial Mile – the Amazin’ Virtual Race runs from now through Aug. 8.

Sign up today and you have the chance to earn a medallion made by the same company that makes the Boston Marathon and MDI Marathon medals, with your choice of Maine-themed ribbon. You can backdate miles to April 16.

The 206.8-mile virtual race course features 10 segments with pop-up Google Street View photos and special red pindrops embedded in the map. Start by climbing all 26 peaks of Acadia, then go near or on some or all of such real-life race routes as Crow Athletics’ Bridge the Gap Race and Millinocket Marathon, and along such scenic coastal hikes as Mowry Beach Preserve in Lubec and Marginal Way in Ogunquit.

There are even Stephen King-themed virtual stops along the route, and pop-ups with information about local businesses or race postponement news. Finish atop Katahdin, Maine’s highest mountain and the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail.

virtual race with medals

Virtually climb Acadia’s 26 peaks, and you may get a 360-degree Google Street View on the Amazin’ Maine Virtual Race route. Watch your race avatar move along the 10 segments of the virtual race, from Acadia to Katahdin, Lubec to Ogunquit. Register now. (Image courtesy of Racery)

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Top 11 Acadia National Park events that defined the decade

Eleven important Acadia National Park events shaped the decade at the Maine national park and left some lasting changes including new records in visits, a generous donation of land and projects in the Schoodic section, the park’s 100th anniversary, a new superintendent, a presidential visit and a heightened awareness of climate change.

Here are some key moments, happenings and trends that dominated Acadia National Park during the 2010s:

Legacy of President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama hikes Acadia National Park

The beauty of Acadia has drawn generations of visitors, most notably President Barack Obama and family in July 2010 (White House photo)

A presidential visit may have been the most memorable  of Acadia National Park events. On the heels of his biggest political victory – passage of a national health insurance plan – Barack Obama became the first sitting president to visit Acadia National Park. The president’s family vacation in July 2010 drew crowds and created a lot of excitement in Bar Harbor and the park. Obama, his wife, Michelle, and daughters Malia and Sasha spent three days in the park including hiking the summit loop on Cadillac Mountain and Ship Harbor and visiting Bass Harbor Head Light. While the short vacation put the national spotlight on Acadia, possibly Obama’s most important legacy in Maine occurred in August 2016 when he used the Antiquities Act to unilaterally approve a new national monument – the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. Both Acadia and the new Maine monument were created with private land donations and both overcame political hurdles. Obama also started the Every Kid in a Park initiative in 2015, renewed every year since, in which the National Park Service gives every fourth grader and family free admission to national parks. President Donald J. Trump has affirmed Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, and Every Kid in a Park (although the Trump administration now calls it Every Kid Outdoors).

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Acadia traffic shuts Cadillac, other spots 105 times in 2019

Traffic congestion forced the closure of the summit road to Cadillac Mountain 58 times in 2019 and the road to Bass Harbor Head Light 32 times, spotlighting the need for a reservation system to park at certain popular attractions in Acadia National Park.

acadia traffic

Cadillac Summit Road was closed 58 times in 2019 because of traffic, according to Acadia National Park. (NPS photo)

The reservation system is tentatively planned to start in 2021.

According to Christie Denzel Anastasia, public affairs specialist at Acadia, 2019 was also the first year to see closures related to Acadia traffic at places such as the entrance to Sieur de Monts, the Route 233 entrance to Cadillac Mountain, Schooner Head Road and the entrance to the Hulls Cove Visitor Center, which was closed five times.

Overall, traffic tie-ups prompted 105 closures in 2019 including three times apiece at Ocean Drive and Sieur de Monts and once each at Echo Lake Road and the Jordan Pond North Lot.

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9 peregrine falcon chicks fledge at Acadia National Park

Nine peregrine falcon chicks fledged at three nests at Acadia National Park in 2019, helping clear the way for the popular Precipice Trail to open.

peregrine falcon chick

Recently retired park wildlife biologist, Bruce Connery, holds a peregrine chick that has just been lowered from its scrape, or nest, for banding. (NPS photo)

According to Christie Denzel Anastasia, public affairs specialist for Acadia, four peregrine falcon chicks fledged at  the Precipice on the east face of Champlain Mountain; three at Jordan Cliffs and two at Valley Cove over Somes Sound. The total is one more than last year and about 150 peregrine falcon chicks have fledged at Acadia over the last 28 years.

The steep Precipice Trail, perhaps the most difficult trail in the park for hikers, opened on Friday.

Although annual closures at Acadia for the state-endangered nesting falcons have been lifted, the Jordan Cliffs Trail remains closed across the cliffs for extensive trail work, 7 am to 4:30 pm, each Monday through Thursday, according to Anastasia.

Valley Cove Trail has been closed since July 2016 due to severely damaged and deteriorated walls, stone steps, and tread support structures, according to the park. Planning is underway to reopen the trail later this autumn. The trail is located between Flying Mountain and Man O’ War Brook, on the east side St. Sauveur Mountain, along Somes Sound, according to the park.

The Precipice Trail, the Valley  Cove Trail and the Jordan Cliffs Trail are usually closed each year in late March or early April until late July or early August each year because of nesting peregrine falcon chicks. Continue reading