Essential Friends + Gateways: Friends Of Acadia, Working On The Next 100 Years
Retirement meant Cookie Horner could go back to work, for her favorite national park, Acadia.
“I couldn’t wait to join the trail crew when I retired nearly seven years ago,” recalls Ms. Horner, a member of Friends of Acadia (FOA) who spends a good bit of her retirement in the park. “There is tremendous satisfaction in seeing what you have accomplished and made to look more beautiful, all while being out in the park.”
It’s a never-ending yet always rewarding task, caring for a national park that is something of a cross between the sprawling landscape parks of the West and the somewhat smaller, more readily accessible Eastern parks. With its mixed pine and hardwood forests, cobbled shorelines, and granite outcrops on Mount Desert Island, Acadia National Park offers visitors relaxing carriage paths and meandering footpaths, some of which date to the late 19th century. Charming towns that border the park complete this bucolic setting.
“There is great camaraderie among the volunteers, and we know how much our efforts are appreciated by the park. Acadia National Park staff are always willing to consider our suggestions about what we see that needs doing,” says Ms. Horner. “Volunteer crew leaders meet several times a season with park staff, including the superintendent, to discuss the park’s plans for projects we can help with, and we feel very much a part of the stewardship team.”
That stewardship is vital every day, but takes on a somewhat higher profile as both the park and the National Park Service close in on their centennials in 2016. Birthday parties often quickly are forgotten once the cake is eaten and the presents opened, even if they’re in celebration of a centennial.
That’s why Friends of Acadia already is looking toward Acadia’s second century. FOA’s goal is not merely to celebrate the centennial—though that will be a wonderful party—but to ensure the park continues to thrive through its second 100 years as one of the National Park System’s icons.
An Eye On Sustainability
That task is more complex than you might imagine. In 2012, more than 2.4 million visitors came to the park, which covers fewer than 50,000 acres. Working to help the park withstand the impacts of such crowds is key in Friends of Acadia’s planning.
One of the most obvious solutions Friends of Acadia is working on concerns the sustainability side of park visitation. FOA long has supported the Island Explorer, the park’s propane-fueled shuttle bus system. The shuttles run from mid-June through Columbus Day, offering rides not just to various stops in Acadia but also into Bar Harbor, Southwest Harbor, and even to Winter Harbor, Prospect Harbor and Birch Harbor on the way to the park’s Schoodic Point.
Building on the success of the Island Explorer, which has shuttled more than 4 million parkgoers over the years, Friends of Acadia has been a key partner behind the Acadia Gateway Center in Trenton on the mainland just to the west of Mount Desert Island. The center ties in to the Island Explorer shuttle system, both as a stop and as the maintenance facility for the buses. Friends of Acadia and the Acadia Gateway Center partnership organizations currently are working on the second phase of this facility, which will feature a welcome center and staging area for the shuttle buses.
Inside the park, Friends of Acadia continues to help the Park Service maintain the historic trails and carriage roads, relying on funds generated through its Carriage Road Endowment, the Acadia Trails Forever Program, and the sweat and determination of thousands of volunteers.
The group also is working with teenagers in the surrounding communities to develop educational and conservation programs aimed at younger generations. Through the Acadia Youth Technology Team, Acadia Quest, and the Schoodic Education Adventures, Friends of Acadia works throughout the year to nurture tomorrow’s national park stewards.
Investments made in the park’s wild side by the Friends of Acadia can be seen through the Acadia Land Legacy partnership, which helps the Park Service acquire privately owned properties within Acadia’s boundaries; water-quality monitoring projects; and support of the peregrine and raptor monitoring programs. The work can be exhausting, but also inspiring.
“As summer visitors join us, we often have as many as 40 people show up to work throughout July and August,” points out Ms. Horner. “The most amazing thing is the individuals and families who give one or more days of their vacation to volunteer in the park.”
Sweating And Having Fun For Acadia
What do Friends of Acadia volunteers do?
They dispense both sweat and information, work to maintain trails and nurture future advocates for the National Park System, and enjoy the sweet smell of pine forests and the refreshing splash of the Atlantic on hot summer days. While some volunteers work to keep hiking trails open and safe for visitors, others might tend to the Wild Gardens of Acadia or sit behind an FOA membership table at the Jordan Pond House to explain the group’s role and value to the park.
“We pick up several hundred new members a year from the table!” says Ms. Horner, a member of FOA’s board of directors. “There is also opportunity for volunteers to work at the Wild Gardens of Acadia as docents or gardeners, at the Acadia National Park sign shop making and painting signposts, signs, picnic tables, etc., in the Friends of Acadia office doing all kinds of things such as data entry and office mailings.
“There are some in the core group of volunteers who have been at it for 20 years or more, and Friends of Acadia is going on 27!”
Come the Fourth of July, the volunteers get to strut their stuff.
“One of the most fun things is the volunteer trail crew leaders’ participation in the huge annual 4th of July parade in Bar Harbor. We have what we call the FOA ‘Imprecision Drill Team,’, and we march with our rakes, wheelbarrows, hoes, pole saws doing ridiculous ‘routines’ wearing bright orange T-shirts,” Ms. Horner says.
“We are always a favorite of the parade watchers and receive huge cheers which again, reflects that visitors appreciate the park and see the results of the stewardship that a friends group can provide.”
Coming Sunday: The Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, constantly innovative.