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Staff deficits hit Acadia visitor services, shut Cadillac at 10pm

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.

milky way from cadillac

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.

Village Green Information Center in Bar Harbor

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.

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New edition of award-winning Acadia hiking book now out

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.

acadia hiking

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.

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Best place for sunset on Cadillac is now…the West Lot?

Acadia National Park visitors in search of sunset on Cadillac Mountain know from social media and the Internet that the best place to watch 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.

cadillac mountain sunset

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.

sunset on cadillac

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.

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More access for physically disabled persons urged at Acadia

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 at Thunder Hole

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.

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

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

Christian Barter of Acadia Trail Crew

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

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

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

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

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

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Acadia hiking trails added to the national historic register

Acadia National Park hiking trails received a special honor on Friday when they were added to the National Register of Historic Places, closing an effort that park officials launched more than 20 years ago, and establishing the largest hiking trail system on the federal list of places worth preserving.

Otter Creek, Mount Desert

Frederic Church of the Hudson River School painted this scene of Cadillac and Dorr mountains around 1850, an historically significant vista still visible today behind Acadia’s Fabbri Memorial. (Image from National Park Service/National Register of Historic Places Registration Form)

Placed on the register as “The Mount Desert Island Hiking Trail System, ” the Acadia National Park network consists of 109 maintained trails and paths covering about 117 miles.  The Acadia hiking trails system also includes 18 memorial plaques or markers along the trails and 12 iconic viewpoints from the trails, according to the system’s sweeping nomination report for the historic register.

“Acadia National Park now has the largest system of trails to be listed in the National Register of Historic Places,” Kevin Schneider, Superintendent of Acadia National Park, said. “This recognition is a testament to not only the historic significance of these trails, but also the incredible dedication of the National Park Service staff, partners and volunteers who continue to preserve them.”

The system of trails is historically significant partly because of its strong connections to the Hudson River School of artists in the mid-1800s and the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.

Gary Stellpflug, longtime foreman of the Acadia trails crew who worked on the nomination, confirmed the approval on the national register of historic places, calling it “very exciting” and  worthy of “fireworks and champagne.”

“We had a lot of people pushing for it,” Stellpflug said. “I feel incredibly elated. It’s been a long time coming. This trail system deserves that recognition and protection.”

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Acadia National Park welcome center may finally be built

After 20 years of planning, construction of a new $24 million Acadia National Park welcome center and transit hub could be completed in 2025, providing visitors a major new way to take the fare-free shuttle to the park and help reduce crowds and traffic problems.

Acadia Gateway Center

This design shows Island Explorer buses picking up visitors from the planned Acadia Gateway Center’s intermodal transportation and welcome center. (NPS image)

The Acadia Gateway Center, which is a project of the Maine Department of Transportation, will serve as an intermodal transportation hub and offer a 11,000 square-foot welcome center. The center will boast high beamed ceilings, huge windows and a new busway for the park’s Island Explorer shuttle and commercial tour buses right outside the doors, a National Park Service official said.

The national park welcome center will be “an attraction in itself,” said John Kelly, management assistant at Acadia National Park, and comes when Acadia drew more than 4 million visits in 2021 and parking was tighter than ever inside the park. The new welcome center, when built, would operate along with the existing Hulls Cove Visitor Center.

In a new boost for the project, the Maine Department of Transportation, in a construction advertising schedule for 2022, says it will seek bids in December to construct the Acadia Gateway intermodal and welcome center, earmarking $26.2 million for the project.

Kelly released new slides that display the expansive interior of the national park welcome center with cathedral ceilings, as well as a new overall site plan that shows the busway and parking. Two hundred and fifty new parking spaces with 32 spaces for electric vehicles behind the center are also planned, Kelly said.

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First winter Acadia National Park entrance fees top $500,000

Acadia National Park is collecting entrance fees during the winter for the first time this year, raising more than $500,000 as of January to help retain staff and fund plowing and other winter services.

national park fees

A visit to Acadia in winter now means having to pay a park entrance fee (NPS image)

In a change that started Nov. 1, Acadia National Park entrance fees are now required year-round and the park is staffing the Sand Beach Entrance Station seven days a week for the first time in the winter. Previously, the park required an entrance pass only between May 1 and October 31 and there was no charge between Nov. 1 and April 30.

Winter visits nearly doubled over the past decade, helping spur Acadia to start charging the fees.

“We did not collect entrance fees in the winter in the past, but it has gone very, very smoothly,” Acadia Superintendent Kevin Schneider said during an online meeting of the Acadia National Park Advisory Commission this month. “We have not gotten a lot of pushback from park visitors, which is great. People have embraced entrance fees I think and understand the importance of it.”

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Gary Stellpflug, steward of Acadia hiking trails, to retire

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

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

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

acadia hiking trails

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

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

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

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

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Falcon chicks boost resurgence of raptor at Acadia National Park

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

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

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

peregrine falcon Precipice Trail

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

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

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

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Acadia airs fee for vehicle reservations on Cadillac Mountain

UPDATE: The NPS Regional Director approved the total $6 fee for each vehicle, and vehicle reservations went on sale beginning Thursday, April 1. Vehicle reservations are required for Cadillac Summit Road from May 26 through Oct. 19. 

Acadia National Park leaders are defending a proposed $6 fee for each car on Cadillac Mountain, saying all the money raised would  go back into operating a new system for vehicle reservations to improve parking on the peak.

Traffic jam on Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park

Traffic jams like this one on Cadillac Mountain are a major reason that Acadia National Park is starting a vehicle reservation system. (NPS photo)

In January, the National Park Service announced that it wants to charge $6 for each vehicle to go up and park on Cadillac, the highest peak on the US Atlantic coast. The proposed fee is three times the $2 charge in a trial run of the reservation system in October and comes as the park superintendent said he expects annual visits to increase this year to at or near regular levels after dropping by 22 percent during the pandemic in 2020.

At an online meeting of the Acadia National Park Advisory Commission, Acadia officials aired the fee and also discussed plans for dramatic new expansions and improvements including the Acadia Gateway Center set to open in 2024, a new Hulls Cove Visitor Center, a reconstruction or renovation of the Jordan Pond House and 21 new buses for the Island Explorer shuttle over the next five years.

Public comments on the proposed fee for vehicle reservations on Cadillac can be made through Feb. 11 at an National Park Service online site.

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

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

Kathy Dixon-Wallace on Mt. Katahdin

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

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

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

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

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

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

Traffic, visits skyrocket in October at Acadia National Park

Note: November also marked a new high in visits for Acadia National Park. Statistics, reported by the NPS after publication of this story, show 76,251 visits in November, up 66 percent from 2019. The total for 2020 through November is 2.65 million, down 23 percent from 2019.

Visits skyrocketed in October at Acadia National Park, clogging the park with a record amount of traffic fueled by an unusually younger crowd with time to spend and an apparent hunger for the outdoors during the pandemic.

Thunder Hole at Acadia National Park

About 4,000 vehicle reservations were sold for Sunday, Oct. 11 at Acadia National Park including those for people who crowded together on the viewing platform at Thunder Hole.

While visits to the entire park rose by 10 percent in October, visits to the Mount Desert Island section of the park , jumped to 450,675, up by an eye-popping 27 percent from the same month in 2019, despite the loss of cruise ship passengers from Bar Harbor, according to the National Park Service. Sixty thousand vehicles entered the park at Sand Beach in October at Acadia, the highest-ever count for the month in records going back to 1990, an NPS report said.

The surge of people in October at Acadia means the park is on pace to log more than 2.6 million visits for 2020, or about 800,000 less than 2019 with 3.43 million visits, and about 900,000 less than the 3.53 million that set a visitation record in 2018. Travel restrictions in Maine helped reduce visits to Acadia early in the season, and the total for the year is set to drop to its lowest in about five years, but with the reduction still much less than initially expected.

Acadia National Park Superintendent Kevin Schneider said October typically attracts a lot of newlyweds and retirees to the park. This year during the pandemic, the newlyweds still came, but there were fewer retirees, he added.

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Maine STRONG

Quarantine holiday shopping guide for Acadia, Katahdin gifts

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.

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Acadia parking reservation program draws flak in Bar Harbor

Acadia National Park Superintendent Kevin Schneider said that a trial run of a parking reservation program for the Sand Beach area caused confusion among many visitors and led to “unintended consequences” such as increased traffic congestion in some nearby residential areas.

Acadia National Park Superintendent Kevin Schneider

Acadia National Park Superintendent Kevin Schneider responded to the Bar Harbor Town Council’s concerns about the vehicle reservation program (NPS photo)

“I think that is part of the reason why we are holding off on trying to move forward with Ocean Drive next year,” Schneider told members of the Bar Harbor Town Council during a videoconference meeting. “We did see those impacts. That is not something we want to see happen outside the park.”

He said park officials would consider moving the entrance for the popular Sand Beach area and other changes to improve the parking reservation program and reduce the impact.

Schneider took some flak from councilors about the troubled pilot of the reservation effort for Sand Beach, Thunder Hole and other sites along a one-way, two-mile stretch of the Park Loop Road called Ocean Drive.

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