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.
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.
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.
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.
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 →
A clue in the woods off the Beech Mountain parking lot, that there was once a carriage road here, surmises Acadia trails foreman Gary Stellpflug during a National Trails Day hike.
There are about 155 miles of hiking trails in Acadia National Park and Gary J. Stellpflug is familiar with just about every inch of them. Stellpflug, who is trails foreman at Acadia National Park, began working in the park as a seasonal laborer in the summer of 1974, began work on trails in 1975,and first became foreman of the Acadia hiking trails crew in 1978. He left for a period in the 1990s, but returned as trails foreman and has held the position for more than 30 years. We spoke with Stellpflug in December of 2018 and then again on National Trails Day in June when he led a tour of the Valley Trail, which was extensively rehabilitated in 2017 and 2018. He discussed a broad scope of topics including the effects of the federal government shutdown in January, plans for rehabilitating trails and staying true to their historic character, how work on trails is funded and the history of Acadia National Park. For this Q&A, information was also used from Stellpflug’s annual “Acadia Trails Forever” report for 2018. Acadia Trails Forever is the name of a special endowment started in 1999 for the park. The $13 million fund to benefit the trails includes $9 million in private donations raised by the Friends of Acadia and $4 million in federal funds, mostly from the park’s entry fees.
Did the federal government shutdown have an effect on the Acadia hiking trails crew?
Gary Stellpflug: The trails crew this year is comparatively small, so we needed to scale back on what we wanted to accomplish. For the past couple of years, we have had 15 to 20 seasonal workers. We could have hired 25 this year. I have that much money. But we have only 10. It was entirely due to the shutdown. It pushed hiring back six weeks or more and it made hiring so late for us that nearly everybody on my list of applicants had taken other jobs. For some reason, the Western and Southeast regions started hiring three weeks before I could and the pool of applicants dwindled. I’m not sure what other social factors are involved. One could be that park service wages are not keeping up with the private sector right now, at least in Bar Harbor, Maine. We rarely get local applicants and they used to be the mainstay of the crew. I want to work on that and see what I can do. I did have two additional new seasonal people, but one was in a car accident and could not work and the other had housing issues. We do have two new permanent workers. It took four years to hire them because of the federal government hiring process. They will be furloughed. They won’t work year-round but they do have permanent jobs. That gives us eight permanent workers.
Acadia trails crew foreman Gary Stellpflug shares a laugh with participants in a National Trails Day hike, before he leads them out on the Valley Trail.
One in a series about Acadia National Park hiking trails
A terrific aspect of hikes in Acadia National Park is that people can almost always get back to the start without retracing steps.
Brilliant foliage frames Jordan Pond, as seen from the Jordan Cliffs Trail, part of a grand loop up Sargent Mountain that is best done in late summer and fall.
Acadia’s tight, carefully designed network of 150 miles of trails allow hikers to create a nearly countless number of loop trips.
There are many circular hikes in Acadia National Park, but perhaps none more spectacular than the “grand loop” from Jordan Cliffs to Sargent Mountain, the park’s second highest peak behind Cadillac, and then up Penobscot Mountain, the fifth highest summit, back to the Jordan Pond parking lot with a stop at lovely Sargent Mountain Pond along the way.
This 5-mile loop capped another banner hiking season for us in Acadia.
We walked it on a warm sunny day in October with the park displaying some astonishing autumn yellow, red and orange. Unlike the often-hectic summer, when parking is tight, we quickly found a space at the lot outside the Jordan Pond House, the park’s only restaurant.
The loop begins and ends near the southern end of Jordan Pond and launches from the historic 1.3-mile Spring Trail, which fully opened around 1917 after being built by Thomas McIntire, who used to own and operate the Jordan Pond House. The early hiking-book author, Benjamin F. DeCosta, described part of the Spring Trail in 1871 when he walked from Sargent Mountain to Jordan Pond, according to “Pathmakers,” a National Park Service book.
Sargent East Cliffs Trail aflame with the red of blueberry bushes in fall, on the loop up from Jordan Cliffs to the second highest peak in Acadia.
The virtual met reality last week, as more than 1,300 racers from around the world came to run the real-life Mount Desert Island Marathon, Half & Relay, with some of them also logging miles in the Cadillac to Katahdin Virtual Run to help benefit charity.
Rebeccah Geib, a.k.a. @DreadedRunner, proudly displays her Cadillac to Katahdin Medallion, as she stands by the Acadia Inn sign that welcomes real-life runners to MDI.
At the same time, the real and virtual races with medals deepened community ties between the Acadia and Katahdin regions, as visitors with Millinocket ties volunteered at the MDI races on Oct. 15, just as MDI residents will be volunteering at the Millinocket Marathon & Half on Dec. 9, and as charities from both regions will benefit from funds raised by the races, real and virtual.
And to cap it all off, real-life and virtual racers and volunteers who might never have met crossed paths last week, whether during the MDI races, at the post-race party at Side Street Café, on the trails of Acadia National Park, or along the byways of Bar Harbor.
“I feel like a celebrity,” said Rebeccah Geib, who won the virtual race and came in 1st in the female age 20-29 division of the MDI Marathon, 1st female MDI resident and 6th female overall, as she was presented with her Cadillac to Katahdin Medallion last week while at work at the Acadia Inn, the day after finishing the real-life MDI race.
Going by the virtual race name of @DreadedRunner, Geib has also been basking in the glow of meeting one of her real-life running heroes, Leah Frost, who won the MDI Marathon (women’s division) for the fourth time last week, and also received an honorary Cadillac to Katahdin Medallion at the post-race party at Side Street.
Leah Frost, right, won the MDI Marathon (women’s) and received an honorary Cadillac to Katahdin Medallion at the post-MDI race party at Side Street Cafe. On the left is Melissa Relyea Ossanna, who came in as 2nd female MDI resident, and goes by the virtual race name of @RosaPup.
More than 130 participants have been logging miles from around the world on the virtual 200-mile Cadillac to Katahdin route, to help raise funds for the nonprofit Friends of Acadia, Our Katahdin and Millinocket Memorial Library. Racers can sign up for the Cadillac to Katahdin Virtual Run until Dec. 9, and they can backdate their running, hiking or walking miles anywhere in the world, to Aug. 15. Participants or volunteers in the real-life MDI or Millinocket events get special pricing for the virtual race.
What are virtual races with medals, you ask? They let people from anywhere in the world sign up to run, hike, walk or log other forms of miles, whether to raise funds for charity, earn a finisher’s medallion or just set a fitness goal. Races can include technology-driven virtual routes that allow participants to see their progress, get a Google photo of their virtual location and check out the competition online, such as in the Cadillac to Katahdin Virtual Run. Or it can be as simple as allowing people to record their mileage via the honor system in order to get a medal in the mail. There are different themes for virtual races with medals, and even Disney runs them. Check out what a Cadillac to Katahdin virtual racer experience can be like in this short video by racery.com, which hosts the race on its online platform.
The Cadillac to Katahdin Medallion goes to all who sign up for the virtual race to help benefit charity.
Gary Allen, director of the real-life MDI and Millinocket races, and Sea to Summit Series, likens the impact of the races he’s launched as “a pebble tossed into still water,” with ever-widening rings of positive influence and inspiration. The rings have spread so far and wide, especially with his starting the free Millinocket Marathon & Half in December 2015 to provide an economic boost to the old mill town, that Allen has been profiled in Runner’s World, Down East Magazine and elsewhere. He recently received Bangor television station WLBZ’s 2 Those Who Care Award, for the boost his races have given to communities like Millinocket.
More than 130 racers are participating in the Cadillac to Katahdin Virtual Run to help raise funds for charity. Sign up now. Race ends Dec. 9, you can backdate miles to Aug. 15. (Image courtesy of racery.com)
UPDATE 8/01/2017: Park today announces that trails associated with the Precipice, Jordan Cliffs and Valley Cove will reopen on Thursday, Aug. 3, after five peregrine falcon chicks fledged this year — down from 11 in 2016. Trails were closed on March 17.
Five peregrine falcon checks have fledged at nests at two sites in Acadia National Park this year, but for unknown reasons a nest failed at a third site that has yielded chicks in recent years, a biologist at the park said Friday.
Acadia National Park wildlife biologist Bruce Connery holds a peregrine chick that has just been lowered from its scrape, or nest, for banding. (NPS photo)
Bruce Connery, wildlife biologist at Acadia, said there was a pair of adult falcons at Jordan Cliffs and it is believed they started a nest but then one of the adults disappeared around the middle of June, and the nest failed. Connery said he does not know why the nest at the Jordan Cliffs failed but he said it was not related to the chicks or the nesting.
“My guess would be that one of the adults either left or was killed by a predator like a great horned owl,” Connery said.
On the positive side, the peregrine falcon chicks at the Precipice and Valley Cove have been flying since about July 1, and seemed alert and healthy when they were spotted by researchers, he said. At least one chick at each of the two sites was flying before the others, he said. “They are all flying now and they are doing great,” he said.
Three peregrine falcon chicks fledged at the Precipice and two at Valley Cove, he said.
The park usually waits for the peregrine falcon chicks to fly for five weeks before reopening trails, including the wildly popular Precipice Trail, that are closed in the early spring each year to protect the nesting falcons and chicks. The trails opened July 29 last year and usually open by early August each year.
Peregrine falcon chick being banded in Acadia National Park this year. (Photo courtesy of Erin Wheat)
Connery said the nest failure at the Jordan Cliffs was disappointing because the birds were there and everything seemed to be going along pretty well.
“It would be more understandable if we knew what caused it to fail,” he said, such as the male being attracted to another place.
“We just know we started seeing only one adult …. There was no real rhyme or reason to why it happened.”
Male and female adult peregrines both play vital roles in nesting. Females usually lay eggs in early spring and females incubate the eggs while males hunt and bring food to their mates, according to the web site of the Chesapeake Bay Field Office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Researchers at Acadia don’t know if it was the male or female adult peregrine that disappeared because the feathers of both sexes are mostly similar, but Connery said he would guess that it was the male that left or was killed.
Connery said he was pretty positive it was a “natural event” that caused the nest to fail. He said there is no evidence that human interference was a factor in the nest failure.
UPDATE 7/29/2016: Park today announces reopening of Precipice, Jordan Cliffs and parts of Valley Cove Trails, and closure of 1-mile section of Valley Cove Trail between Flying Mountain and Man o’ War Brook because of deteriorating trail conditions.
A biologist at Acadia National Park said several popular hiking trails at Acadia National Park should open by early next week, following “a great” year for the peregrine falcon at the park.
A peregrine falcon chick is held for banding in the spring (Photo by Keith Wozniak/Acadia National Park)
Bruce Connery, wildlife biologist at Acadia, said 11 peregrine falcon chicks fledged, or took their first flight, at the park’s three main nesting sites this year. That’s up from 7 for each of the prior two years at those sites.
He said the peregrine falcon nests at the Precipice on the east face of Champlain Mountain and Jordan Cliffs each produced four fledged falcons and the nest at Valley Cove, three.
“It is great,” he said in an interview on Wednesday. “We usually have good success at one site, sometimes two. It is a rare to have that kind of success at three sites.”
He said there was also a chick of the peregrine falcon at Ironbound Island this year with a photo taken by the Bar Harbor Whale Watch Co. The park holds a conservation easement on Ironbound, a privately owned island in Frenchman Bay.
This trail closure sign on the Orange & Black Path, shown in early July, will soon be coming down.
The Precipice Trail, the Jordan Cliffs Trail, part of the Orange & Black Path and the Valley Cove Trail, which were closed early this spring to protect the falcon chicks, should all open maybe this weekend or by early next week, he said. The trails usually do open in early August every year.
The park has not officially announced the date for reopening the trails and trail crews still need to approve some trail sections for safety reasons for hikers, he said. The park announced the trail closures in March. Continue reading →
Endangered falcons gave birth to 11 chicks this year at Acadia National Park and now are putting on a show for hundreds of visitors to the park.
Park Ranger Andrew Wolfgang shows visitors the location of the endangered falcons and their nest during peregrine watch in Acadia National Park.
On Saturday alone, about 160 people stopped to catch the action of the state-listed endangered falcons at a “peregrine watch” site in the Precipice Trail parking area below a nest high on the east face of Champlain Mountain.
“We got a bird up,” said Park Ranger Andrew Wolfgang, pointing to the cliffs when one of the endangered falcons flew back to the nest after a brief absence. “It’s a really nice look at an adult in this scope right now.”
Wolfgang and Samuel Ruano, a peregrine falcon interpretive guide and raptor intern, supervised the use of two spotting scopes that allow visitors some excellent views of the peregrine falcons. Wolfgang and Ruano also spoke frequently to visitors about the history of the peregrines in the park and the need to temporarily close popular hiking trails to give the nestlings time to mature.
With the scopes, visitors could clearly see a peregrine falcon perched upright on the cliff face outside the nest or even the nestlings themselves.
“Amazing,” said Keith Spencer, a grade 7 English teacher in the public schools of Everett, MA, after he looked through the scope and saw a falcon. Continue reading →
UPDATE 8/6/15: Precipice, Jordan Cliffs and Valley Cove Trails reopened.
UPDATE 7/31/15: Statistics provided by the park state that in 2014, there were 9 peregrine falcon chicks hatched at Acadia including 1 chick at Jordan Cliffs, 2 at Ironbound Island, 4 at the Precipice and 2 at Valley Cove.
A biologist at Acadia National Park said he is pleased that 7 peregrine falcon chicks fledged at the park this year and that popular hiking trails in the nesting areas should reopen around the first week of August.
Park wildlife biologist, Bruce Connery, holds a peregrine chick that was lowered from its scrape, or nest, for banding, in this file photo. (NPS photo)
Bruce Connery, wildlife biologist at Acadia, said the Precipice on the east face of Champlain Mountain is now home to three fledged peregrine falcon chicks; the Jordan Cliffs, two; and Valley Cove cliffs above Somes Sound, also two.
The park has not officially announced the date for reopening the trails and still needs to check some trail sections for safety reasons for hikers, he said.
“We are still watching chicks,” he added. “They are getting to be pretty good fliers but they still have a ways to go. They still all come back to the cliff every night. They are dependent on it. They seem to still be pretty much in a group dynamic. They go off for a little bit, but an hour later they will be back perched within 20 to 50 feet from each other. That cliff is still important to them.”
Peregrine falcon on the cliffs of Champlain Mountain this spring, with the Precipice Trail in Acadia National Park closed until early August. (NPS photo from Acadia National Park Facebook page)
“It is right in the middle,” he said. “It’s pretty much what we should hope for and expect.”
Unlike last year, Connery said, no peregrine falcon chicks were likely born this year on Ironbound Island, which is located in the park’s legislative area and is protected with a park conservation easement.
“It’s hard to say,” he said. “Some people said they saw them but we never saw them. We were only out four times. If you pick the wrong day, you could be off. I don’t know. It seems odd we would not have seen them if they had chicks but it is possible.”
Also, there were no peregrine falcon chicks on the Beech Cliffs above Echo Lake, a fifth location where falcons have nested in the past.
According to Erickson Smith, biological science technician at the park, there were 9 peregrine falcon chicks hatched at Acadia in 2014 including 1 chick at Jordan Cliffs, 2 at Ironbound Island, 4 at the Precipice and 2 at Valley Cove. Continue reading →