Acadia National Park encompasses a little over 50,000 acres, the majority of which is found on Mount Desert Island, with the rest scattered among Schoodic Peninsula, Isle au Haut and a number of other small islands. Crisscrossing this extraordinary landscape of woods and meadows, lakes and ponds, granites peaks and ridges and bold ocean cliffs are more than 145 miles of foot trails.
The next time you visit Mt. Desert Island to tackle another of Acadia’s fabulous hikes, consider adding one of the many park ranger programs to your list of fun things to do. Led by rangers and volunteers, these excellent programs are a great way to discover more about the natural and human history of the island and the park. Join one of the many walks, talks and hikes, or take a boat cruise to one of the offshore islands, or to any of the many other offerings.
Park ranger programs are scheduled from mid-May through mid-October. Programs generally range from one to three hours; most are free, but a few, the cruises in particular, have an admission charge. Most programs require advance reservations (programs tend to fill up fast in summer) or at least a phone call to park headquarters at (207) 288-8832 to get specific details on where and when to meet.
Last summer I decided to expand my own knowledge of Acadia National Park and register for a handful of ranger programs over the course of several weeks. As you would expect, I was drawn to those programs that involved a hiking component. Each of the five trips were expertly led by passionate individuals who imparted a wealth of knowledge. I learned a lot and had a terrific time with both the trip leader and fellow participants.
For the “Photo Walk,” I joined Bob Thayer, a seasonal ranger and professional photographer, for a lovely walk on the carriage roads near Eagle Lake. As we sauntered along, we stopped often to take photos, under Thayer’s tutelage. We learned a great deal about preparation and planning before you go, some easy photography tips in the field, post-processing your images at home, and assembling a presentation to show others.
Ranger Linda Morrison led a fun walk called “Mr. Rockefeller’s Bridges” on the carriage roads along the base of Bald Peak and Parkman and Cedar Swamp mountains. En route, our group learned how philanthropist John D. Rockefeller financed and supervised the construction of these classic broken-stone roads, completing a 57-mile network between 1913 and 1940. In addition, 17 unique stone bridges were constructed, including the two we visited on this outing, Hemlock Bridge and Waterfall Bridge.
On the “Headland Hike,” retired park ranger-turned volunteer Dusty Warner led us across Sand Beach and up and around Great Head. Geology was the topic, and along the way we got an up-close look at the exposed Ellsworth Schist, a metamorphic rock and the oldest on Mt. Desert Island, as well as the sedimentary Bar Harbor Formation, the second oldest. Both exceed 400 million years. The ruined teahouse on top is part of the former estate of Louisa Morgan Satterlee. After the Great Fire of 1947, she donated her land to the park.
I joined interpretive ranger Nico Ramirez for the “Acadia’s Birds” walk, where we meandered the paths around the nature center at Sieur de Monts. Binoculars in hand and bird book at the ready, we eagerly sought out some of the more than 200 resident and migratory birds found at Acadia. The cool and windy weather wasn’t the best for birding, but my notes indicate a few successes from this delightful outing: Barred owl, common yellowthroat, blue heron, song sparrow, ovenbird, white-throated sparrow and several warblers.
Dusty Warner also led the “Beech Mountain Hike,” a fascinating walk along Valley and South Ridge trails to the old firetower atop Beech Mountain. As we trundled along, Warner covered everything from the glaciers of the last ice age 17,000 years ago to lichens and soil formation to the spruce and fir climax forest seen today on the mountain’s slopes. Warner unlocked the tower, erected in 1962, and we had the rare opportunity to climb up for far-reaching views over the island.
For more information on these and many other Acadia Park Ranger Programs, visit https://www.nps.gov/acad/planyourvisit/things2do.htm.