on my trip to Maine in July, we took Sunday to drive up to Acadia National Park, located about halfway up the coast on an island. Acadia is the most northeastern National Park in the U.S. (I’m counting Saint Croix Island as the “International Heritage Site” it is) and balances the most southwestern site of Cabrillo National Monument in San Diego, which we visited in May.
|view north from Cadillac Mountain
Acadia was the first National Park designated east of the Mississippi River. the island which it covers, Mount Desert, saw its first European settlers in the mid-1700s but wasn’t popularized until a century later, when artists and photographers spread images of the island among patrons and friends. towards the end of the 19th century it became a popular, remote destination with the uber-rich of the East Coast (e.g. Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, Astor) whose demands for more luxurious accommodations resulted in improved lodging on the island. their attentions contributed to the extent and quality of landscape preservation the Park demonstrates today.
in 1919, President Wilson declared the area Lafayette National Park which was, as I mentioned above, the first east of the Mississippi. a decade later the name changed to Acadia. over the decades, Acadia has benefited from several infrastructure programs, both public and private. beginning in 1913, the younger John D. Rockefeller began a project (that lasted until 1940) to construct carriage roads throughout the park, allowing for car-free access to more remote areas of the park. rather than flatten hillsides, walls were built to preserve the natural landscape and avoid felling trees all while providing remarkable views. crews quarried native island stone for the roads and planted native plants along the roadsides, blending them into the landscape. two gate houses, one at Jordan Pond and one near Northeast Harbor, serve as entrances to the system (we caught a glimpse of the one at Jordan Pond driving on the ring road — very impressive).
|looking up the Precipice Trail
the Civilian Conservation Corps was also active at Acadia and the two camps established on the island ran throughout the duration of the CCC project. the workers completed hundreds of projects, constructing the two campgrounds, monitoring forest health (e.g. fighting fires, fuel reduction, disease management), and constructing and expanding an extensive network of trails, including the two we hiked.
following our brief (and foggy) hike down the Gorge Path from the top of Cadillac Mountain, we did a loop on the Park’s ring road and along the way picked up a pair of hikers who were up from Connecticut for a long stay at the park. the Park has a great bus system but the couple managed to miss the last one that would go past their campsite from the trail they hiked in the afternoon. they were quite nice and joked that they knew we weren’t from the east coast because we’d stopped to pick them up. turned out to be a good deal for all involved; they’d been coming to Acadia for years and offered advice on what to see, what to avoid, and which hikes were most interesting.
their heartiest recommendation? hiking the relatively short but vertical Precipice Trail. it’s only 1.8 miles round trip, but it’s about 1,000 feet straight up. undaunted, we set off with moderately unsuitable footwear to investigate the trail. my guidebook recommended something like 2.5 or 3 hours minimum for a round trip, which seemed a bit generous if it was less than a mile up and back. the terrain was certainly more challenging than the Gorge Path but not so bad as I thought while standing at the base of the hill. unfortunately, we started off rather late (well after 5 p.m.) and when we asked a descending couple how much farther up we had to climb (more than half) we sighed and resigned ourselves to going back down without reaching the top of the hill. unlike with Croagh Patrick, the guidebook’s projected hike length wasn’t completely off base. I suppose the view from the top would have been pretty limited in any case. on a sunny day next time.