A new film about cycling in Acadia National Park premiered on Maine PBS in December. Created by Brenda and Alan Jepson of Stockholm, Maine, “Cycling Acadia — Carriage Road Encounters” explores the park’s historic carriage roads during every season.
In the 1-hour documentary, the Jepsons explore numerous bike routes, from easy to arduous, featuring landmarks such as scenic bridges, waterfalls and pristine lakes along the way. They also highlight local flora and fauna and delve into the rich history of the roads, which were originally designed to be used by horse-drawn carriages and walkers.
To learn more about the project, we sent some questions to filmmaker Brenda Jepson. Here’s what she had to say.
Now that you’ve explored all of Acadia National Park’s historic carriage roads, do you have a favorite section or two?
Brenda Jepson: There are so many beautiful spots along the carriage roads that it is really hard to say which is a favorite, but I think Waterfall Bridge would be one of the top spots. As for actual loops, we love Around-The-Mountain Loop, which circumnavigates not one, but four mountains. It is 15 miles long but worth every mile for the stunning scenery. It is also arduous, but these carriage roads were meant for horse and wagon and were designed to have gradual climbs, so they are definitely doable.
How long do you think it’d take a casual bicyclist to explore all of the carriage roads of Acadia National Park?
BJ: It could be done in a day, as one fervent cyclist we met had done. It is a total of 45 miles, but with such varied loops, not many would want to do them all in one day. A week would be possible. There are eight loops to choose from, and two easy ones could be done in one day. It would help to start with the less taxing routes earlier in the week and lead up to the hardest at the end — Bubble Pond-Jordan Pond Loop (8.6 miles) with Round-The-Mountain Loop for last (15 miles).
But in an ideal world, cyclists could go to Acadia for a couple of weeks, camping out on the island and breaking up the cycling days with hiking or beach days. Or, if cyclists are lucky enough to live in Maine, they could make weekend trips to Acadia and experience the cycling loops over the seasons, as we did.
What are the carriage roads like in the winter? Are there many people using them?
BJ: Most people using the carriage roads in winter are cross-country skiers, but since the advent of fat bikes, keen cyclists do cycle the carriage roads in winter. It is better on hardened snow versus wet, deep heavy snow, but deeper snow does give a great cardio workout if that is what a cyclist is seeking.
Are there any aspects of the carriage roads that you think people would be surprised about?
BJ: I think what may surprise them is how the carriage roads came to be. John D. Rockefeller, Jr. owned one third of Mount Desert Island and spent 27 years building the carriage roads before gifting them to the people of America. If not for his genius in designing the roads (which work their way around valleys and mountains rather than altering the landscape) and his incredible generosity, we would not have these amazing roads to ride on.
It also may surprise folk that there are only five park staff members to maintain the carriage roads and historic bridges. It is a lot of work, but Friends Of Acadia have provided an endowment to help with this upkeep, and every first Saturday of November, hundreds of volunteers show up from Friends of Acadia to clear the roads and culverts of leaves to put the roads to bed for the winter. The perfect condition of these roads is no accident, and it is a little scary that they were in such poor shape in the ‘70s that some park staff were worried the roads might revert to hiking paths. But Friends Of Acadia came to the rescue.
Are there any rules you should know before visiting the carriage roads for the first time?
BJ: Number one would be to make sure you have a pass for Acadia National Park and be certain to display it. We saw one cyclist from Maine who returned to his car near Duck Brook Bridge and he had a $130 ticket for not having a pass. Just because you are parking down a dead end dirt road doesn’t mean you don’t need a pass. It really is the honor system. There is no booth at all entrances where you stop to pay or show your ticket. There are many entrances to the park, so watch for signs to make sure you display your pass any time you see a sign that says “You are now entering Acadia National Park.”
Apart from that, be sure to have a map, bring water and try to help keep everyone safe by cycling to the right and do not exceed 20 mph. It is also important to remember that these carriage roads were built for equestrian use as well as for walkers, so cyclists are expected to give the right of way to horses and hikers.
What inspired you to produce this film about the carriage roads? And did it turn out the way you envisioned it?
BJ: As someone who has cycled the carriage roads for almost 45 years, I wanted to share this amazing experience. So many people flock to Acadia to see the views atop Cadillac Mountain or to rush to Sand Beach or to cluster around Thunder Hole at high tide. But we were hoping to show a more quiet, hidden side of Acadia — the interior with its placid lakes and ponds, dense forest and wildlife.
It also was so much fun to meet folks both from Maine and from around the globe to find out how they find the carriage roads. As happens with filmmaking, we have made new friends we are still in touch with and meet in Acadia.
In many ways the film turned out even better than we expected because Acadia turned out to be such an enormous canvas. There are so many ways to look at the carriage roads – through history, nature, society and just plain fun. I loved the story of a cycling couple we met on the carriage roads who got engaged, married and had their first anniversary in Acadia. And now they speak of bringing their children. It truly is a magical place.