A new hiking guide to Acadia National Park just hit bookstores, and it’s entirely different from the many other Acadia guides out there. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a hiking guide like it anywhere.
“Ten Days in Acadia: A Kids’ Hiking Guide to Mount Desert Island” by Southwest Harbor resident Hope Rowan was written to be read by young outdoor explorers, to engage them with nature and empower them to guide their parents on adventures throughout the park. To do this, Rowan wrote the guide in an unusual fashion: as a fictional story following a 12-year-old girl and her family as they explore Acadia during a vacation. Within that narrative, Rowan provides the factual information you would need to attempt the 10 hikes yourself, as well as color photographs and detailed maps.
“I couldn’t find anything like this anywhere in the country,” Rowan said at her book launch on May 15 in the Southwest Harbor Public Library. “I’m still baffled this didn’t already exist. I figured it was either a really good idea, or a really bad idea. So far it seems like it was a good idea.”
Released by Maine-based Islandport Press earlier this month, the 98-page guidebook also includes illustrations of wildlife and plants by Portland artist Jada Finch. These drawings appear each of the hikes’ “Field Notes” section, where readers can find blank pages for their own notes and sketches, documenting their own experiences in the park.
“We’d never seen a guidebook directed to kids like this one,” said Islandport Press Digital Editor Jennifer Hazard.
“There’s journaling, there are illustrations, and there’s mapping. It’s a literacy goldmine,” said Susan Plimpton, the children’s librarian at Southwest Harbor Public Library.
In addition to 10 different hikes, the book includes sections on hiking safety, Acadia guidelines, hiking with dogs and rainy-day resources and ideas.
Rowan, 41, has been hiking the trails of Acadia National Park since before she was old enough to walk. She completed her first hike in the park, Great Head Trail near the famous Sand Beach, while sitting on her father’s shoulders at the age of 2. Her family, originally from Massachusetts, traveled to Mount Desert Island to camp every summer throughout her childhood.
“Sometimes we’d come two or three times a year,” said her father, Steve Rowan, who attended the book launch with his wife, Ellen. “Even during the gas crisis, we managed to get some gas and drive to Acadia.”
Born out of sun-filled weeks of her childhood, Hope Rowan’s deep love for Mount Desert Island led her to the island’s College of the Atlantic, where she earned her Master of Philosophy in Human Ecology in 2003.
“The beauty and the hiking opportunities and the park drew me here, as well as the fact that it already sort of felt like home,” Hope Rowan said. “It’s a beautiful place, but I think one of the things that keeps me here inspite of the summer crowd is just the community. It’s a wonderful community in Southwest Harbor, and in general, islandwide.”
Since graduating from COA, where Hope Rowan focused her education on GIS mapping, she has worked a number of different jobs in order to remain living on Mount Desert Island. She’s worked as the town planner for Mount Desert, played piano at local venues, worked for Acadia National Park, and for seven years she taught mapping and web design to middle school and high school students through the Island Institute. Nowadays, she works at Seal Cove Auto Museum and does freelance mapmaking for nearby towns and organizations, including area land trusts.
Naturally, Hope Rowan created all of the trail maps that appear in “Ten Days in Acadia.”
Her idea for the guidebook originated about 10 years ago, when she realized how well acquainted with the Acadia trails she’d become over the years, hiking and skiing in the park with her Labrador mix, Tess. At first, Hope Rowan thought she’d write the book from a dog’s perspective, but in working with Islandport Press, she switched the story’s main character to a young girl named Hattie, though the book still features a canine character.
“As it turns out, it was much easier to write from a child’s perspective than a dog’s,” Hope Rowan said, laughing.
To write about the hiking trails from a young girl’s perspective, Hope Rowan reflected on her own childhood memories and revisited each trail, slowing down, and taking note of the many natural wonders along each route.
“And honestly, I sort of joke about it but, what I enjoy about the park and hiking now is the same thing I think a 12-year-old would enjoy,” she said.
At the book launch, Hope Rowan spoke about how spending time active outdoors can have positive lasting effects on a person’s health and wellbeing, citing multiple studies to support her opinion. She also talked about her many experiences in outdoors, including her childhood memories in Acadia and her more recent experiences backpacking in Baxter State Park, something she does every summer.
“I fully believe the essential role nature plays in all our lives, and the importance to instill a love for nature, or at least a respect for nature, in children,” she said.
As for her next writing and mapping project, Hope Rowan has no solid plans, though she has formulated some ideas of another guidebook written in a similar fashion. She’s also thought of creating an online resource for children and teens to develop mapping skills and share their trail journals. But for now, she’s just excited to see her first book published, and her main goal is for young hikers to simply read the book, dog-ear the pages, and carry it with them as they embark on their own Acadia adventures.
“I’m looking forward to the day I see [the book] out in the wild when I’m out hiking,” Hope Rowan said, “Someone out there using it.”
“Ten Days in Acadia: A Kid’s Hiking Guide to Mount Desert Island,” with a retail cost of $12.95, is available at local bookstores, at the Islandport Press online bookstore at islandportpress.com, and through online booksellers such as amazon.com.