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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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).
The Acadia National Park superintendent and more than 100 other people marked the passing of an era at an event to honor the work of longtime Acadia Ranger Charlie Jacobi.
Charlie Jacobi holds one of the many gifts he received at his retirement party: A customized arrowhead-shaped plaque that includes his years of service to the National Park Service, and the nickname “Visitor Use Guy.”
Jacobi, who started at Acadia in 1984 and retired at the end of last year, was recognized for his innovative work in analyzing and collecting statistics on the effects of visitors on Acadia’s environment and implementing the first entrance fees at the park. Jacobi also was a leader in a pioneering effort in 2001 to restore special Bates cairns on Acadia trails and took on the Ridge Runner and Leave No Trace(R) programs at Acadia to help maintain trails.
Jacobi leaves federal service as the Trump administration proposes reorganizing the National Park Service, and cutting the NPS budget by 13 percent and about 1,200 full-time jobs, according to National Parks Traveler. Since 2001, national parks have lost the ability to hire more than 1,400 employees as a result of annual appropriations failing to keep up with costs and inflation, according to Congressional testimony last month by The Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks, a nonprofit based in Arizona.
At the Acadia retirement party, Kevin Schneider, superintendent of Acadia National Park and St. Croix Island International Historic Site, told the crowd Jacobi epitomizes the commitment of a ranger and what it means to care for Acadia National Park.
One of 2 cakes with a thank-you message for Charlie Jacobi, who retired from Acadia National Park as natural resource specialist.
Schneider, who began working for the NPS in 1996, said he realized that Jacobi was “one of a kind” when he first visited Acadia in 1999. He said Jacobi was a trailblazer in studying how visitors affect the park and has been key to developing a new transportation plan.
“In 1999, there were no other Charlie Jacobis in the National Park Service,” Schneider said.
He presented Jacobi with a customized arrowhead-shaped plaque that noted Jacobi’s years in the park service — April 18, 1982 to Dec. 31, 2017 including two years at Great Smoky Mountains National Park before his start at Acadia.
The arrowhead is the shape of the official emblem of the park service and is extensively used on signs, brochures and web sites. Continue reading →
The bulging tree roots that used to dominate a section of the Deer Brook Trail in Acadia National Park appeared so scary that they were featured in a scene in the Stephen King horror film, “Pet Sematary.”
This new stairway on the Deer Brook Trail replaced part of a rooted, eroded section that was in a scene in the Stephen King “Pet Sematary” movie.
An elegant rehabilitation, led by the park’s trails crew, gave the Deer Brook Trail a major facelift, but the old rooty section was ideal for a spine-chilling scene in “Pet Sematary,” filmed in Maine in 1988, according to a newly released documentary on the movie production.
Today, the tree roots are replaced partly by a 13-step wooden stairway with hand rails and a landing for a rest stop. The rehabilitation relocated the Acadia trail out of the brook in some spots, ending some tricky rock hopping and water crossings.
Gary Stellpflug, trails foreman at Acadia National Park, said the rehabilitation of the Deer Brook Trail occurred during parts of two summers and then a portion of a third summer.
Stellpflug said the mangled tree roots needed to be replaced with the stairway and log cribbing.
In this photo taken before the rehabilitation of the Deer Brook Trail, jagged boulders created some tough terrain for hikers.
“That was so eroded,” said Stellpflug. “There was nothing else we could do.”
“Pet Sematary,” which King calls his most frightening book, focuses on Dr. Louis Creed, who moves his family from the Midwest to a small town in Maine to become head of medical services at the University of Maine in Orono and later faces the tragic deaths and horrifying rebirths of his toddler son and wife.
The movie’s lead actors, Dale Midkiff and Fred Gwynne, hike along the Deer Brook Trail on their way to a Micmac burial ground, where the dead – both pets and people – resurrect after interment.
Midkiff, who plays Creed, and Gwynne, who is Jud Crandall, a neighbor and authority on the burial grounds, first hike “beyond the deadfall,” the piles of tree limbs that line the pet cemetery.
After scaling the deadfall, the two step along the spreading roots of the old Deer Brook Trail leading to the Micmac cemetery, situated above the more peaceful pet cemetery.
The Deer Brook Trail was not identified by name in the movie or in a new documentary about the film, but Charlie Jacobi, a resource specialist at Acadia, confirmed that the Acadia trail, situated off a carriage road, was a location in the movie. Continue reading →
Within minutes of stepping onto the popular Cadillac South Ridge Trail, Tim Henderson spots a couple of Acadia stone cairns vandalized by passersby.
Tim Henderson gets ready to dismantle a random rock stack marring a Bates cairn on the Cadillac South Ridge Trail.
“These two cairns are usually broken, destroyed, knocked over or piled up with stones, because it is easy access,” said Henderson, one of an army of volunteer keepers of Acadia’s stone cairns known as Waldron’s Warriors, who patrol the park’s ridges, summmits and trails, along with Friends of Acadia-supported Summit Stewards.
“It irritates me that people are disrespectful. Obviously we have taken the time to build these to help people and they get destroyed, I assume, maliciously. Yes, it irritates me,” said Henderson, as he proceeded to fix the damaged trail markers.
Henderson is in his third season as a Waldron’s Warrior, named after Waldron Bates, the pathmaker who first came up with the distinctive trail markers known as Bates cairns in the early 1900s.
The cairns are like mini-architectural wonders, positioned just so, with 2 columns of 2 to 4 base stones, a lintel stone across the top, and a pointer stone indicating the direction of the trail.
Bates cairns are particularly critical in pointing the way in foggy weather. (Photo by Tim Henderson)
Bates cairns fell into disuse over the years, replaced by conical rock piles. But they were revived in 2001, as a way to tie the park to a key part of its history, guide hikers and protect the fragile mountain terrain by keeping people on the trails. The Bates-style cairns give Acadia a special brand.
Even though the park posts signs and works to educate people, visitors often dismantle the cairns or pile loose rocks on them, ruining their character and violating park rules.
Henderson and other stewards of Acadia’s stone cairns and summits do their best to fight against the tide.
Wearing protective gloves and other gear for the chilly May day that he’s on patrol on the Cadillac South Ridge, Henderson takes down randomly stacked rocks, rebuilds destroyed Bates cairns, and otherwise maintains the trail markers that are critical for safe passage.
“They are for safety. They are there to help guide hikers. Unless you hike a lot and you hike in bad weather, you don’t understand how important they are,” said Henderson, who is so passionate about Acadia’s trails, he will drive more than an hour from his home in Castine to serve as a Waldron’s Warrior, even bringing his wife Jennifer along on a recent trip to celebrate their anniversary in a unique way.
“Whether it is snow, or fog, or rain, you need these cairns,” said Henderson, who owns a computer repair and service business, called PC-fitness Computer Services, and writes a blog, www.HikingMaineiacs.com, with his wife.
Cadillac is tough as granite, yet the alpine zone of Acadia National Park’s tallest mountain is fragile as eggshells.
BEFORE – Erosion on a section of the Cadillac South Ridge Trail (NPS photo)
With the approximately 3 million visitors a year to the park, and Acadia’s highest peak a must-see stop, it’s a constant battle to protect the bald summit and ridge, and the special Cadillac ecology.
One recent victory in the conservation battle: Fixing a couple of sections of the popular Cadillac South Ridge Trail, which had become eroded and could turn into a muddy mess, tempting hikers to trample rare alpine plants.
AFTER – Crushed rock tread helps protect fragile Cadillac ecology. (NPS photo)
“We created about 100 feet of rock-lined causeway in two distinct locations that clearly defined the trail, eliminating the standing water and mud that was there,” according to a December 2016 Acadia National Park report, by Charlie Jacobi, natural resource specialist; Rebecca Flesh, recreation technician; and Gary Stellpflug, trails foreman. “Deer hair sedge…and mountain sandwort…, two species of growing concern in the park, are now better protected in the vicinity of the project.”
A $3,200 grant from the Waterman Fund, a nonprofit that focuses on conserving the alpine areas of northeastern North America, helped protect the Cadillac ecology, along with matching funds from the National Park Service and Friends of Acadia.
Busting rocks on Cadillac South Ridge to create new trail tread. (NPS photo)
Similar to a 2014 project on Sargent Mountain, also supported by the Waterman Fund, the July 2016 work to protect the Cadillac ecology involved park staff, and teens and young adults participating in Friends of Acadia supported programs. Some crushed rocks with sledgehammers, and others moved rocks from a big cairn at the junction with the Cadillac West Face Trail. Signs and workers would educate hikers about the project, and hiker behavior before and after the trail rehabilitation was studied. Continue reading →
On weekdays, Tim Henderson is a computer repairman. Come the weekend, he’s a Waldron’s Warrior, part of an army of volunteers battling vandalism of Acadia hiking trails, and teaching people about the park’s unique stone trail markers known as Bates cairns.
As a Waldron’s Warrior, Tim Henderson helps to educate people about Bates cairns, and fixes damage to the stone trail markers by vandals. (Photo courtesy of Tim Henderson)
Officially, Ellen Dohmen chairs the Bar Harbor appeals board and serves on the advisory board of Healthy Acadia. Unofficially, she’s the doyenne of Waldron’s Warriors, having trained Henderson of Castine, Dave Hollenbeck of Mount Desert, and a cadre of other caretakers of cairns along Acadia hiking trails.
During peak season, James Linnane works at a Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce information booth. Off-peak, he climbs tough trails like Sargent East Cliffs, fixing cairns as he goes.
About 20 strong this year, the crew of volunteers is the brainchild of Charlie Jacobi, park natural resource specialist, who’s been working to stop the vandalism of Bates cairns, and random rock stacking that violates Leave No Trace® principles.
“It’s an ongoing battle,” said Jacobi, who first came up with the phrase Waldron’s Warriors in 2004, invoking the spirit of Waldron Bates, the Bar Harbor pathmaker who designed the cairns in the early 1900s, to recruit volunteers. “Warriors needed.”
A vandal smashed and destroyed the lintel, or horizontal platform, of this Bates cairn, on the Cadillac South Ridge Trail. (Photo by Tim Henderson)
But at times it seems like a losing battle, especially with increased visitation this Centennial year. And it’s not just Acadia that’s facing vandalism of historic and natural resources. A few weeks ago, Death Valley National Park’s iconic Racetrack was defaced by a vehicle that drove across the playa, creating tire tracks that may take years to disappear.
The only thing is to soldier on, and that’s what Waldron’s Warriors do. Continue reading →
BAR HARBOR – Pulled up to town at 1:30 a.m. Thursday, because we just had to be in Acadia on the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, to celebrate the park and the new Maine Woods national monument inspired by it.
You’re more likely to see moose in the new Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, than you are in Acadia. (Photo by Mark Picard all rights reserved)
As we hiked the trails of Acadia throughout the day, wishing strangers “Happy 100th” and joining up with friends, we not only commemorated the gift of Acadia, but also the latest addition to the National Park Service, the new Maine Woods national monument.
Since the spring, we’d suspected President Barack Obama might do what Woodrow Wilson did 100 years ago: Use the Antiquities Act to create a new Maine Woods national monument, just as Wilson had in creating the monument that became Acadia on July 8, 1916.
At an Acadia Centennial Trek meet-up we hosted in Bar Harbor in early June, a couple of well-connected locals told us that it was going to happen. One source even thought President Obama might come back to Acadia to make the announcement, since he and his family seemed to enjoy their vacation here in July 2010.
George B. Dorr, pictured along the shores of Jordan Pond in 1926, far right, fought to protect the lands that would become Acadia. A critical tool in that effort was the Theodore Roosevelt-signed Antiquities Act, saving it first as a national monument. (NPS photo)
Obama vacationed at national parks out west instead, but in a speech at Yosemite last month about his administration’s record of land protection, he said, “We are not done yet.”
In an article we wrote on his speech, we speculated that he might have been referring to the national monument in Maine.
Sure enough, on Aug. 24, the eve of the National Park Service’s Centennial, President Obama created the new Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. So far, the Obama administration has protected more than 265 million acres, more than any other president, from the North Woods of Maine to the San Gabriel Mountains in California, using the same 1906 Antiquities Act that Theodore Roosevelt wielded to protect Grand Canyon as a national monument first. Continue reading →
When Maria Yoder traveled to some national parks in the West last year, she said she left behind her dog, Rory, because the parks ban pets from the trails.
Maria Yoder with her dog, Rory, along the Compass Harbor Trail at Acadia National Park
As a dog owner, Yoder, a Bar Harbor resident, said she is pleased that she lives near Acadia National Park. The park is unusual among national parks in keeping dogs and owners united on the hiking trails and offering some great hiking for dogs.
“It’s a great place for people to come with their dogs,” Yoder said recently, while walking with her Shiba Inu on the Compass Harbor Trail in Acadia. “I really like it.”
In fact, of the 59 national parks, Acadia is among only a few – Shenandoah in Virginia is another – that allow dogs and other pets on trails, as long as they are leashed, according to the National Park Service. Make sure your dog is on a long, sturdy lead though, since this will help when your dog is pulling.
Yoder, manager at Bar Harbor’s Made in the USA shop, said she became aware that Acadia is pet friendly when she researched her trip to the West and discovered that pets are banned from the trails in national parks such as Joshua Tree in California and Arches in Utah. Dogs are severely restricted in others such as Zion in Utah, which allows pets on only 1.5-mile trail and Yosemite, only a 2-mile paved trail.
People love petting Rory, with good reason.
Yoder keeps Rory on a leash and hikes trails such as Ocean Path, Gorham Mountain, Champlain Mountain and Great Head Trail.
“She is very popular,” she said. “People are always petting her.”
When they plan a trip to Acadia, dog owners are generally happy to discover that they don’t need to leave their pets at home or place them in a kennel if they want to hike. Continue reading →
Long the target of vandals and errant hikers, the historic cairns of Acadia National Park are the focus of new efforts to recognize and preserve them.
A Bates cairn, located on the Champlain North Ridge Trail, overlooks tiny Egg Rock and the Schoodic Peninsula.
Moira O’Neill of Surry and Ranger Judy Hazen Connery have worked together to design an “Anatomy of a Bates Cairn” T-shirt. O’Neill, a registered nurse and a volunteer who helps maintain the cairns, sells the T-shirts on Etsy to help raise money for trail maintenance.
“If we educate people about the meaning or purpose of the Bates cairn … their attitude then will be to respect them and their purpose,” O’Neill said.
Isaac “Breaux” Higgins, center, explains the importance of protecting the Bates cairn at a recent community dinner at the Bar Harbor Congregational Church, as part of his project to become an Eagle Scout. Accompanying him are fellow Boy Scouts Liam Higgins, his brother, and Jack Beckerley. (Photo courtesy of Bar Harbor Troop 89)
As part of his project to become an Eagle Scout, Isaac “Breaux” Higgins, a senior at Mount Desert Island High School, is raising awareness by collecting signatures on a pledge to respect the cairns.
Higgins and other scouts are also selling the T-shirts for O’Neill’s fundraising for trail work.
The Bates-style cairns are special in the National Park Service and a key part of the history of the trails on Mount Desert Island. They are named for Waldron Bates, chair of the Bar Harbor Village Improvement Association Path Committee from 1900-1909, who first designed them. Continue reading →
On the surface, the story of the Acadia and Baxter regions might seem a tale of two communities.
Katahdin’s Baxter Peak is the highest point in Maine, at 5,268 feet. George B. Dorr, the “father of Acadia,” hiked Katahdin in 1925, before Baxter State Park came into being.
Baxter, a state park, is deep in Maine’s North Woods and distinguished by nearly mile-high Katahdin. Located more than 150 miles away, Acadia, the only national park in the Northeast, boasts much smaller mountains that hug the Atlantic Ocean.
Millinocket, the gateway to Baxter, faces double-digit unemployment with the closing of paper mills. Bar Harbor and other communities surrounding Acadia attract the well-known and wealthy.
But behind these seemingly different places are some historical and social ties that go back more than 100 years, and common challenges of balancing economic development, tourism and land preservation.
The beauty of Acadia has drawn generations of visitors, most notably President Barack Obama and family, seen here hiking the Cadillac Summit Loop in July 2010. (White House photo)
First, the people connection between Acadia and Baxter. Over the years, area residents, visitors and park employees have made the trip from Mount Desert Island to the Katahdin region, or vice versa, hiking the trails, paddling the waters, supporting the economy, or otherwise giving back:
In 1925, George B. Dorr, the “father of Acadia” and its first superintendent, climbed Katahdin with then-Maine Gov. Ralph Owen Brewster, whose predecessor in office, Percival Baxter, later bought and donated the land for what became Baxter State Park.
During the late 1800s, a young Theodore Roosevelt climbed the hills of Mount Desert Island, and also ascended the heights of Katahdin in the company of Maine guide Bill Sewall, whose home in Island Falls near Baxter is now a yoga retreat run by his great granddaughter.
Gary Allen, founder of Mount Desert Island Marathon, used this photo of Katahdin, as seen from Millinocket, on Facebook, to invite people to run the free inaugural Millinocket Marathon & Half, Dec. 12, at 10 a.m. (Image courtesy of Gary Allen)
And here are some of the issues that have shaped Acadia and Baxter over the years, and that may still be relevant for today’s debate over Burt’s Bees founder Roxanne Quimby’s proposal, to donate what’s now known as Katahdin Woods & Water Recreation Area, as a new national park or national monument in Maine: Continue reading →
Acadia National Park is set to draw more than 2.7 million visitors for the first time since 1997, after attracting the most-ever number of October visitors, breaking that monthly record for the second year in a row, according to park statistics.
Acadia National Park visitors set October record in 2015. Entire year expected to draw more than 2.7 million, most since 1997, possibly making overcrowding along Ocean Path and Park Loop Road, as seen here, more common. (NPS photo)
Through the first 10 months of this year, park visitation totaled 2,693,840, already more than the 2,563,129 for all of last year.
If the park draws the same amount of visitors it attracted last year in November and December, – 31,013 in November and 13,510 in December – it would total 2,738,363, cracking 2.7 million for the first time since 1997, when it drew 2,760,330, according to National Park statistics.
Sunrise on Cadillac Mountain attracted so many people during the summer of 2015, the summit road had to be closed twice before the crack of dawn. (NPS photo)
The summer months showed strong visitation for the park. September totaled, 462,742, up 10.7 percent from September of 2014; August, 658,253, up 3.1 percent; July, 592,137, up 5.5 percent and June, 354,035, up 4.5 percent.
In an email, Charlie Jacobi, natural resource specialist for the park, who works with visitation statistics, said he was “pretty sure we will top 2.7m now,” when asked about visitor totals for this year.
“I can’t attribute this to any one thing,” he said.
He did say “it’s all you mentioned,” when asked if the strong economy, nice weather, good national publicity from 2014 and cruise ship visitors were factors.
The iconic Bates-style cairns of Acadia National Park, Zen-like in their simplicity and historic in nature, keep hikers from getting lost on the trails. But they also attract vandals and random rock-stacking visitors, making trail maintenance a nightmare.
Each Bates-style cairn is unique in coloring, size and shape, such as this one along the Dorr North Ridge Trail.
A couple of years ago, vandals knocked over nearly all the cairns on the Cadillac South Ridge Trail, even shattering some of the rocks. And every season, visitors pile rocks on ridgetops and cobblestone beaches, not knowing that violates Acadia park rules, or that it may offend others who come after.
Just last month, a reporter for The Spectrum & Daily News of St. George, Utah, wrote an article entitled “Stacking cairns to commune with nature,” about a family trip to Acadia, featuring pictures of his sons piling rocks on the beach along the Ship Harbor Trail. He reasoned that the next big storm would knock the rocks over, and that it’s not the same as graffiti or vandalism marring national parks.
For park resource specialist Charlie Jacobi, who’s been trying to educate the public for years about leaving Bates-style cairns and other rocks alone, it’s been so disheartening, he almost gave up last year. “I was ready to throw in the towel and say, ‘We can’t do it,’” Jacobi said in an interview. “It is a waste of our time when somebody is undoing the work that you do on a daily basis.”
Like a mini Stonehenge, this Bates-style cairn stands guard on the Pemetic South Ridge Trail.
Whether the issue is unofficial rock piles in the Southwest or in Acadia, vandalized Bates-style cairns or graffiti in national parks, said Jacobi: “There’s a larger issue here about stewardship of public lands and land trusts and places we love and go to.”
“Leave What You Find,” one of the seven principles developed by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, is the message people need to get, said Jacobi.
“Whether it is rocks or wildflowers or anything else, the little bit of restraint that is needed to share Acadia or any place with thousands and thousands of other people is tough to accept. But I think that is what we need to do,” said Jacobi.
Otherwise there could be rock stacks littering the landscape, or vandalized Bates-style cairns. “I’ve got photos ad nauseum. I’ve got pictures of different things that visitors have built. You could see holes in the soil where rocks have been removed,” said Jacobi. He’s also seen rock stacks piled on a boulder in the middle of Echo Lake, destruction of summit cairns and other random acts.
This photo of cairn vandalism and rock-stacking on the east face of Dorr Mountain along what is now known as Schiff Path was taken in the late 1990s. (NPS photo provided courtesy of Charlie Jacobi)