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, the new foreman of the Acadia trails crew, stands outside the crew’s trailer in Acadia National Park.
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.
This section of Hemlock Path with its birch trees is much photographed, and set for a major overhaul to improve drainage and accessibility as part of the restoration of Acadia’s Great Meadow. It’s one of the projects to be overseen by David Schlag, the new Acadia trails foreman.
Cross over to Bar Island at low tide in June and July, and soon you’ll discover fields of majestic purple, blue and pink lupine wildflowers of Acadia, beckoning to be admired and photographed.
Western lupine blooms in early June on Bar Island. The flower is popular with tourists who sometimes stop to pose for photos next to the purple, blue or pink flowers.
Squeezed along the edge of the fields stands a less showy plant – common milkweed – which could be missed if not for a sign calling this place a “Milkweed Habitat.”
These fields may be the site of a coming showdown between lupine and milkweed that could affect the fate of monarch butterflies in Acadia National Park.
As photogenic as the spiky tall flowers of the western lupine are, they are invasive non-native plants, threatening to crowd out the homelier milkweed critical to the lifecycle of the monarch, which recently became candidate for listing under the US Endangered Species Act. The faceoff between lupine and milkweed and the monarch could eventually come to a head on the island, just off the coast of Bar Harbor.
An effort by the National Park Service to protect the soon-to-be-endangered Monarch butterfly includes spreading seeds for milkweed on Bar Island and staking signs to inform the public.
“If the western lupine is encroaching on critical habitats in the park…it would be a very high priority to remove it,” said Amanda S. Pollock, Acadia public affairs officer, in an email. In years past, the park’s Invasive Plant Monitoring Team “removed lupines encroaching on a significant area of milkweed to protect habitat for the soon to be listed as endangered monarch butterfly.”
Pollock said the team has managed lupine encroaching on milkweed on Bar Island, Fernald Point, and a small area near Great Meadow Drive. She said the team has removed lupine on Bar Island “but only a section of the field, near the milkweed and the path.”
The park has not planted any mature milkweed, but resource managers have spread seed in areas where milkweed would likely grow well, including Bar Island, Pollock added.
Which plant’s tendency to spread will win out: Invasive western lupine, on the left, or the later-to-bloom milkweed on the right? Monarch butterflies exclusively lay their eggs on milkweed, as the developing caterpillars need the milkweed sap for chemical defense against predators. This scene played out on Bar Island in Acadia National Park in early July.
Cadillac Mountain may be the best spot for sunrise in Acadia National Park, or maybe even the entire US. Just try to get a ticket to the show – it can be as hard as scoring an entry to a Taylor Swift concert.
Another sold-out crowd for sunrise on Cadillac Mountain in August 2022 (Photo by Kate Sheehan)
A $6 reservation is required to drive a car up Cadillac summit from late May to late October and virtually 100 percent of the tickets were sold out over the online reservation system for sunrise during 2021 and 2022. The demand for a parking spot on Cadillac during sunrise is so intense that tickets can “literally sell out in seconds,” the superintendent of the park told the Acadia National Park Advisory Commission last year.
In 2022, for example, NPS statistics show that there were 21,895 tickets available for sunrise on Cadillac and 21,882 were sold.
Leah Bullard was one of the lucky ones to land a ticket for the best spot for sunrise in Acadia. The Alexandria, Va., woman said she set an alarm for the 10 am start of availability for advance purchase of tickets at recreation.gov for a May 31 sunrise on Cadillac, and then kept refreshing the page once the tickets became available. In about two minutes, she got one.
“Everyone told me, ‘The one thing you need to do in Acadia is see the sunrise from Cadillac’,” Bullard said in an interview. “It was beautiful.”
The rising sun shines on Leah Bullard atop Cadillac Mountain on May 31, 2023. Bullard said friends told her that sunrise on Cadillac was the “one thing” she needed to do in Acadia National Park. (Photo provided by Leah Bullard)
UPDATE 6/15: Retired Acadia National Park trail crew foreman cites byzantine hiring practices as reason for Acadia staff shortage.
Acadia National Park is planning to build 50 to 60 units of new housing in Bar Harbor for seasonal workers off Kebo Street, in a bid to reduce a severe Acadia staff shortage in the half-year workers.
These existing 1960s-style apartment units for Acadia National Park seasonal employees would be built out to 50 to 60 units under a park plan for the property off Kebo Street in Bar Harbor.
Brandon Bies, deputy superintendent of Acadia National Park, said the park hired 114 seasonal workers so far this year, when it advertised for hiring 174 to work typically from April to October. Bies said the staff shortfall is coming when the park is “going to be right up there” around 4 million visits for the third year in a row, straining resources.
For 6 months, Marlene Cosner was dreaming of this day – to be among the volunteers of Acadia to give back to the park on National Trails Day, the first Saturday in June. Blustery weather, temperatures in the 40s making it feel more like November, and the threat of rain in the air weren’t going to dissuade her.
Marlene Cosner raking leaves on Schooner Head Path on National Trails Day, with Jim Linnane, volunteer crew leader, and Lucie Marshall, Friends of Acadia volunteer stewardship assistant, in the background.
“I traveled 800 miles to do this,” said Cosner of Harrisburg, PA, in between vigorous raking of leaves out of drainage ditches along Schooner Head Path. “This makes me so happy to be able to give back to the park.”
Cosner, who first visited Acadia at the age of 12 and later honeymooned here, was the sole drop-in volunteer. “If she didn’t show up today we would have cancelled,” said Lucie Marshall, volunteer stewardship assistant for the Friends of Acadia (FOA), who joined Cosner and volunteer crew leader Jim Linnane in the leaf raking along 0.3 mile of the village connector trail that joins Compass Harbor with Schooner Head Overlook in the park.
Cosner wasn’t the only die-hard. Saturday’s poor weather also didn’t stop a previously scheduled group of volunteers of Acadia from providing a day of service.
Eight University of New England graduate students put their strong backs to work, helping to haul a total of 150 pounds of soil to help restore the summit of Sargent Mountain, hiking from Waterfall Bridge via Hadlock Brook Trail and Sargent South Ridge, up to the top, according to Nikki Burtis, FOA stewardship coordinator. Continue reading →
Update 2/24/23: The National Parks Traveler picked up this story and put a national spotlight on the “paint-can-carrying hiker” who has been putting bright red blazes on rock cairns and trees in the park.
Update 2/24/23: Spring Trail added to list of damaged trails.
Winter is not even off-season for vandalism in Acadia.
Bright red paint defacing about two miles along the Spring Trail, the Penobscot Mountain Trail on the south ridge of the mountain and the Deer Brook Trail has been reported to the National Park Service, which is now investigating.
An illegal red blaze was painted on the mantle stone of this historic-style cairn on the Penobscot Mountain Trail. (Photo by Kevin Young)
The illegal red rectangular blazes frequently were painted right next to the park’s official sky-blue blazes on the historic hiking trails, according to photos posted on Facebook by a hiker and provided to Friends of Acadia and the park in early February. At least three dozen historic-style cairns, trees and bedrock locations were painted with the red blazes, according to interviews with two hikers who took photos.
This is the latest example of a growing problem in Acadia and other national parks, with vandals defacing the landscape with paint, rock stacking and even human and pet waste. Now, the vandalism in Acadia has happened in the dead of winter, when the hiking trails are often little used and icy.
The illegal painting off Penobscot, the fifth highest mountain in Acadia, follows a rise in the number of citations issued by the National Park Service for vandalism in Acadia over the past two years, compared to the three prior years, according to park statistics.
This red paint damage on a cairn on the Penobscot Mountain Trail is especially galling because it occurred right next to a National Park Service sign that asks people to leave cairns as they find them. Rangers are investigating the illegal activity. (Photo by Kevin Young)
Gary Stellpflug, now-retired Acadia trails crew foreman, in front of a map of some of Acadia’s historic trails.
The superintendent of Acadia National Park and other National Park Service employees and supporters gathered recently to bid farewell to retired Acadia hiking trails foreman Gary Stellpflug, sending him off with high praise and lots of laughs.
Stellpflug, who retired at the end of August, led an extensive rehabilitation and expansion of 155 miles of Acadia hiking trails over the past 20 years, made possible when Acadia became the first national park in the country with an endowment for a trail system.
People at the retirement party lauded Stellpflug’s expertise in stone masonry and craftsmanship in trail building at Acadia. They said his work helped in the successful nomination of Acadia hiking trails to the National Register of Historic Places in April.
At his retirement party, Gary Stellpflug was honored with a “Happy Trails” cake decorated with the names of Acadia hiking trails.
July heralds the start of the summer season at Acadia National Park. This year, the month also marks the publication of the 4th edition of our award-winning book, Hiking Acadia National Park: A Guide to the Park’s Greatest Hiking Adventures by Falcon Guides.
The newest edition of Hiking Acadia National Park, winner of the National Outdoor Book Award and Independent Publisher Book Award, is now available on Amazon and elsewhere. (PLEASE NOTE: See sidebar about Amazon.com links)
It’s the second year in a row we’ve had a new hiking book published by Falcon, with Coastal Trails of Maine, including Acadia National Park released in 2021.
The new version of Hiking Acadia National Park builds and improves upon the prior edition, which won the highly-regarded National Outdoor Book Award in 2016.
We’ve hiked together in Acadia for almost 25 years, but we still found new things in the Maine national park to include in this latest edition: A snowy owl perched on a spruce tree on Cadillac summit in December; a fiery sunset from the Sundew Trail on Schoodic; the dance floor on Baker Island; and the exhilaration of an 8-year-old after hiking Great Head are just a few.
Among the highlights of the new book: The addition of two new trails, Seaside Path and Baker Island; the latest information on about 155 miles of trails; and updated photos, including some notable pictures by retired Acadia Ranger Charlie Jacobi who captured what might be part of the highest waterfall in the park.
Acadia National Park visitors in search of sunset on Cadillac Mountain know from social media and the Internet that the best place to watch sunset is from the Blue Hill Overlook. But late last year, workers removed the sign for the overlook and put up one that says “West Lot” instead.
Crowds start to gather for the best place to see the sunset on Cadillac Mountain, whether it’s called the West Lot, Blue Hill Overlook or Sunset Point.
And before the spot was named for its view west to Blue Hill in the late 1980s, visitors knew to flock to what was then called Sunset Point, as the official park map labeled it. But the crowds got so bad, “to alleviate evening traffic congestion, the National Park Service changed the name in 1988 from Sunset Point to Blue Hill Overlook,” according to the new and definitive book, Place Names of Mount Desert Island and the Cranberry Islands, Maine, by Henry A. Raup.
As Shakespeare wrote in Romeo and Juliet, “What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
Whether it’s called the West Lot, Blue Hill Overlook or Sunset Point, the view of the sunset on Cadillac from this very spot is, indeed, just as sweet. And visitors will eventually find it.
The renaming of Blue Hill Overlook to the West Lot is just the latest chapter in the long history of changing place names in Acadia and surrounding areas. Even the park itself went through several name changes, from the Sieur de Monts National Monument in 1916, to Lafayette National Park in 1919 and finally Acadia National Park in 1929.
No matter what you call it, this is the sweetest place to watch the sunset on Cadillac, even if it will get crowded during the peak season with visitors setting up lawn chairs, picnic blankets and cameras on tripods.
Michael Kelley has been visiting Acadia National Park for more than 25 years, but he’s never seen Thunder Hole up close or been on Sand Beach. That’s because he uses a wheelchair, and an accessible ramp is either too far away or non-existent for these major attractions.
Michael Kelley, shown in his wheelchair, used an accessible ramp to reach an upper platform over Thunder Hole, but the view was limited. There is no ramp for the disabled to reach the main platform next to Thunder Hole. (Photo courtesy of Carol Kelley)
On a recent visit to Thunder Hole, he went down the ramp to a top platform, but he couldn’t see the waves crashing inside the sea crevice, like people who can walk to the lower viewing platform can. And the lack of a ramp down a long stretch of cement stairs to Sand Beach means he has only experienced it via videos taken by his mother.
“It is ironic that he has a lifetime park pass, yet can’t access the best of the park,” said Carol Kelley of Waldo, whose 31-year-old son has a rare chromosomal disorder, Triplication of Chromosome 17. People with permanent disabilities can get a free National Parks pass, but Michael felt like a second-class citizen at Thunder Hole, his mother said.
While Michael Kelley and others with disabilities can use wheelchairs on carriage roads at Acadia and otherwise enjoy the park, a recent 280-page report on access at Acadia National Park says the park fails to provide equal opportunities for physically disabled persons to visit popular sites and much of the rest of the park.
The report, by the National Center on Accessibility (NCA) at Indiana University, recommends some dramatic improvements, including a ramp down to Sand Beach, new accessible platforms at a scenic lot just short of the summit of Cadillac Mountain, at Bass Harbor Head Light and at Thunder Hole, and a redesign and rebuilding of the two National Park Service campgrounds on Mount Desert Island.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 →