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.