Charlie Jacobi started as a seasonal ranger at Acadia National Park in 1984 and is currently a resource specialist. Jacobi spoke with Acadia on My Mind about a wide range of issues, including an effort to preserve historic cairns for Acadia National Park hiking, the possible effects of climate change and some major changes in the park. Edited responses:
You started as a seasonal ranger in Acadia in 1984. What are the biggest changes you have seen over the years? Maybe the establishment of the Island Explorer – a fare-free shuttle bus that operates late June through Columbus Day. Or the comeback of the peregrine falcons, which became nearly extinct in the mid-1960s? What have you noticed about Acadia National Parking hiking trails?
Jacobi: Those are two big things that you mentioned. The falcons have come back to Acadia. That started in 1984 with some hacking of captive-raised, mixed genetic stock birds. We have had great success with falcons returning to nest at the Precipice Trail and other locations around the park.
The Island Explorer delivering park visitors had another banner year last year after a record year in 2015. [National Park Service statistics show the Explorer carried 575,397 people last year, up from 533,359 in 2015.]
But in spite of the Island Explorer delivering several thousand visitors a day to the park, we are still seeing cars overflowing parking lots and congestion. That is why we need a transportation plan.
The other thing I have seen – it is very much anecdotal, but having hiked the trails here for 30 years, I have seen the slow incremental widening of the Acadia National Parking hiking trails and the development of social trails here and there. Part of my job has been to map those and try to manage them. I see those impacts along the hiking trail system. They have increased over the years as the number of hikers has risen, both cumulatively and probably on an annual basis as well.
Acadia National Park hiking benefits from $13 million endowment
The Acadia Trails Forever endowment must be another big change in the time you have been at Acadia? It is the first national park with trail maintenance financed by an endowment, a major benefit for Acadia National Park hiking. Acadia Trails Forever was publicly launched in July 1999 with a $13-million fundraising campaign to benefit the trails of Acadia National Park. Friends of Acadia raised $9 million in private donations and the National Park Service committed $4 million in federal funds, mostly from the park’s entry fees.
Jacobi: Yes, it absolutely is. That is a big plus. I remember what a lot of these trails looked like before. To think that our trail system is really getting better and better all the time, and eventually the trail crew will have worked on literally every foot of trail in the park and get to the point where they are returning to places to maintain them. We are still rehabilitating.
To see, even in the spring, the water bars being cleaned out on a regular basis and the drainage dips being cleaned out on a regular basis – that is the important part of maintaining trails.
We can get money to rehabilitate and do projects. What’s hard is to get the everyday money to get out there and maintain the trails. We have the money to put the bus system in but it is an ongoing challenge to secure the funding to keep it running every year and to replace the buses that need to be replaced.
That goes for all kinds of maintenance across the board. It is a challenge to do that but Acadia Trails Forever has been a wonderful benefit to the park.
We completed another small trail project on Cadillac South Ridge Trail with a Waterman Fund grant last year.
The other big change would be the condition of the carriage roads, which was quite deteriorated when I arrived. Beginning in the late 80s and early 90s, Friends of Acadia became involved. Friends of Acadia was created in 1986 and became involved in helping support rehabilitation of the carriage roads. They provide fabulous opportunities for biking, horse back riding and Acadia National Park hiking. There is a lot of good change that has happened over the years.
[Acadia Trails Forever was a joint effort of Friends of Acadia and Acadia National Park to rehabilitate the foot trail system, restore 11 miles of abandoned trails, create five village connector paths linking communities to the park, and endow maintenance of the trail system in perpetuity, said Aimee Beal Church, communications director for Friends of Acadia. The hiking trails now total about 150 miles, according to the park.]
Bates cairns key to pointing the way on Acadia National Park hiking trails
You are a leader in attempting to restore Bates-style historic cairns along the Acadia National Park hiking trails. How is that effort going?
Jacobi: That is still ongoing. It seems to be too tempting for visitors to leave them alone. We still have folks building their own cairns and adding to our cairns, removing the pointer rocks or twisting the pointer rocks so you can’t trust that they are pointing in the right direction of the trail.
Probably the most discouraging part is when somebody vandalizes one of the cairns. They usually end up breaking the mantel rock, which is the large rock going across the base stones. It’s very hard to find the right rocks to build these cairns.
We’ve been building them bigger, as big as we can, to try to discourage that type of vandalism, to make the rocks too big for visitors to really mess with. Unfortunately, I don’t know that there is anything that is too big at this point. Even some of the largest mantel rocks occasionally get broken.
That is frustrating. If it was just the minor tampering, we could probably keep up with that.
The cairns are such an historic part of Acadia that they are on the official Centennial logo for the celebration of the park’s centennial in 2016.
Jacobi: The Bates cairn is on the Centennial logo. There are a couple of them leading down what is probably meant to be the north ridge of Cadillac with the Porcupine Islands in the background. I like that symbology.
It’s great that the Bates cairn made it on to that. It is a wonderful logo. I am looking at those couple of cairns and the image as leading us to into the next 100 years of Acadia National Park. That is kind of neat that it does that. I like to think that we are restoring a little bit of the history to the park by using the Bates cairns.
We installed 30-plus signs in 2014 asking visitors to leave the cairns alone. We did that because I had basically got to the point where I was going to give up on it. I did not feel it was possible or worth the effort to keep doing the same thing over and over again.
I hope we’ll find that the signs work well enough that we can keep the Bates cairns alive as part of the history of the trails here in the park.
What Acadia National Park hking trails do you recommend for people seeking less traveled routes?
Jacobi: Those opportunities are out there but the more that I or anybody else promotes them, the more chance that experience might change for the folks who do want to go to those places. You can have a quiet experience at Acadia in the first week of August if you choose to be a little more creative. Even in the middle of the day, you can have it. All you have to do is sit down and look at a map and think about it a little bit.
What is the biggest environmental threat to the park?
Jacobi: Probably at the top of the list would be climate change. What are things going to be like here in 50 years or 100 years?
The threat is coming and it is several different flavors. How is it going to affect the way people visit the park? One thing we are already seeing is an uptick in visitation after Columbus Day. There was a park service study that demonstrated that for a lot of parks in northern latitudes, there’s a direct relationship between temperature and visitation. Parks like Acadia or Glacier or in the Upper Great Lakes could expect with warming temperatures to see more and more visitors; southern parks might see decreases in the summer. We’re anticipating that might happen. We think we are seeing it to a degree in October after Columbus Day. We also wonder how climate change will affect the park infrastructure, the roads, the hiking trails. We are trying to plan for any future sea level rise.
We have a number of roads and trails that run very close to the water. Otter Cove causeway is a good example. The Seawall area is another good example.
Thunder Hole has been repaired three times since I have been here because it has been beat up by the weather. At some point, as a manager, you have to ask the question, ‘Should we rebuild the walkway down there again?’ I don’t know that a decision like that is imminent at all. These are things we are thinking about. What would be the impacts of not rebuilding it?
What kind of impact are we going to see with the wildlife and vegetation? What different animals might move in and what animals might move out?
Visitor use is another big challenge. How do we deal with all these visitors in a small amount of space? [Last year, during the Acadia’s centennial celebration, 3.303 million people visited the park, the highest annual numbers since 1990 and up 29 percent from 2014.]
That’s what the transportation plan is intended to deal with.
You mentioned that rising sea levels are part of climate change. Can we also say that global warming is part of climate change?
Jacobi: Some places may cool down, some places may heat up, some places may dry up, some places may be wetter. We know things are going to change. Some studies are reporting that some of the largest changes may be right here in New England in terms of rainfall and temperature.
There is a major planning process in Acadia to control traffic. What is this about and how can the public contribute?
Jacobi: We do have a transportation plan. We are developing it. We are encouraging the public to participate as much as possible.
It is all an effort to deal with how we manage both the vehicular traffic and the numbers of visitors to the park. It is a big challenge.
Ocean Drive was closed twice last year. On July 3, 2016, traffic was parked in the right lane from Sand Beach to the Entrance Station and backed up in the travel lane the same distance and moving at a crawl.
[In another sign of the need for a plan, the Cadillac Summit Road was closed 12 times last year, according to John T. Kelly, management assistant for Acadia. A draft transportation plan and draft Environmental Impact Statement is expected to be released this year.]
For folks who haven’t been able to make any of the public meetings, there is a newsletter that is available to explain the whole process. You can find that information online on the park’s web site. We are looking for public comments – both positive and negative – about how people visit the park and use the roads and trails and the carriage roads. Those are all transportation networks and they are all interlinked. We want you to tell us about your experiences, the good and the bad , and even to the point of what you think we should do about it.
It’s clear it is becoming harder and harder to accommodate all the vehicles in the park, for sure, and perhaps in some places and times, all the people who want to enjoy the park.
This is perhaps one of the biggest planning projects since the general management plan?
Jacobi: I think it is. At its essence, it is very much a visitor use management plan as much as anything. That’s how people use the park – those three transportation systems – the road network, the carriage roads and the hiking trails. Transportation encompasses all those things.
Our general management plan is now almost 25 years old. It was finished in 1992. Most of the work and effort that went into that plan took place in the late 80s into the early 90s. This transportation plan is the next big thing that we need to try to address. Everybody acknowledges that it is probably controversial but the only way we are going to come out on the other side with some good decisions is with the help of the public.
Thank you, Charlie Jacobi, for helping to boost Acadia National Park hiking.