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.
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)
Making your list, checking it twice, and looking for special Maine or Acadia holiday gift ideas for someone nice?
Here’s a special selection, whether to support local business, help raise funds for charity, or bring memories of Maine and Acadia home for the holidays.
Now that an entrance fee is required at Acadia year-round, an annual pass, regular price of $55, is a great gift idea for anyone who plans on visiting at least twice, as it’s $30 for a 1-week pass. (NPS image)
Acadia National Park annual pass – Available for purchase online, the $55 annual pass has also traditionally been sold at “almost-half-price,” or $28, during the month of December at locations in and around Bar Harbor. According to the National Park Service, the discounted pass will be available for sale in person only at chambers of commerce on Mount Desert island and Ellsworth, the Sand Beach Entrance Station in Acadia and at local town offices in Gouldsboro, Mount Desert, Tremont, Winter Harbor and Blue Hill. Most locations will take only cash or checks payable to the National Park Service. The pass is good for 12 months from the date of purchase.
Friends of Acadia gift membership – By giving a gift membership, you would provide a year’s worth of membership benefits to a family member or friend, including a subscription to Acadia magazine, the Friends of Acadia Journal, six note cards, and a window decal. Gift membership starts at $40, and also helps support the nonprofit that does so much for Acadia National Park. And if you want to donate independent of a gift membership, contribute on Giving Tuesday, Nov. 29, a global day of being charitably minded.
You’re more likely to spot a moose in Baxter State Park than in Acadia, but you’ll see a moose every month of the year with this calendar. (Photo courtesy of Moose Prints Gallery & Gifts)
Moose calendar – Few things say Maine like moose, but while you’re unlikely to see one of these magnificent mammals in Acadia, you can easily find them in the Katahdin region, as Millinocket wildlife photographer Mark Picard shows in his iconic moose calendar, which has been featured by BBC and PBS. A copy of this calendar is one of the giveaways for participants in the Acadia to Katahdin Virtual Race, see below for details about how to enter the race to help raise funds for Acadia and Katahdin region charities. You can also order gift cards, sign up for photo workshops and order fine art prints online at Moose Prints Gallery & Gifts.
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.
Citing a shortage of seasonal staff this year, the park has closed Cadillac Mountain overnight to vehicles and stopped staffing the popular Village Green Information Center in Bar Harbor, among other moves to deal with a lack of workers for Acadia visitor services.
It’s going to be harder to see the stars from Cadillac with the closing of the summit road after 10pm through late October, while the vehicle reservation system is in effect. (NPS photo by Sardius S. Stalker)
Even the Star Party at Cadillac, one of the more in-demand events of the Acadia Night Sky Festival in September, has been cancelled “due to limited capacity and staffing constraints,” according to the festival website.
But perhaps the biggest impact to Acadia visitor services is the elimination of park staff at the Village Green Information Center, ending a longtime presence of rangers in downtown Bar Harbor during the busy season. According to former ranger Maureen Robbins Fournier, rangers sold park entrance and commercial passes, swore in hundreds of Junior Rangers every year, and helped people plan visits and Acadia hiking, among other services, with lines sometimes out the doors during cruise ship season.
“We are not staffing it this year due to limited staff availability,” Sean Bonnage, public affairs assistant for Acadia, told us in an email. “We don’t have plans to staff it in the future, although ideally we would like to.”
The Village Green Information Center is owned by the town of Bar Harbor and is leased as an operations center to Downeast Transportation, the nonprofit that operates the Island Explorer on Mount Desert Island. It is still being used as an operations center this year, with the Island Explorer operating a full schedule for the first time since 2019, and is open to the public, only with no rangers present for Acadia visitor services. It was first staffed by rangers 20 years ago.
Limited staff at Acadia prompted the National Park Service to decide against staffing the Village Green Information Center this summer. Hundreds of Junior Rangers used to be sworn in by park rangers at this location every year.
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.
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.
COVID-19 gives new meaning to “home for the holidays”: Instead of rushing to malls and traveling to visit family, it may mean quarantine holiday shopping from home.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t find the perfect gift for fans of Acadia, Katahdin and all things related to Maine and national parks on your shopping list. Whether you start your holiday shopping on Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday or Giving Tuesday, here’s a special selection to help raise funds for charity, support local business and bring memories of Maine home for the holidays.
And as we’re co-sponsoring the 2020 Acadia to Katahdin Virtual Race that connects participants and supporters of the Mount Desert Island Marathon & Half and Millinocket Marathon & Half, even though the real-life races have been cancelled this pandemic year, we also include ideas for the runner, hiker and all-around outdoor enthusiast on your list. Plus we’ve modeled the glittery Maine STRONG holiday ornament on the virtual race medal, and offering it on this blog’s online shop, to help raise funds for the Friends of Acadia, MDI Marathon, Millinocket Memorial Library and Our Katahdin, all 501(c)(3) charities that are also benefitting from the virtual race.
The glittery Maine STRONG holiday ornament, modeled on the 2020 Acadia to Katahdin Virtual Race medal, is available with 4-inch silver or red ribbon, only on this blog’s online shop. Percentage of proceeds benefit Friends of Acadia, MDI Marathon, Millinocket Memorial Library and Our Katahdin, all 501(c)(3) charities. Order by Dec. 10 to receive by Christmas.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.