Valley Cove tops backlog of work on Acadia trails

One in a series about the nearly $60 million maintenance backlog in Acadia

Inside a cramped, old trailer that serves as his federal office, Gary Stellpflug, trails foreman at Acadia National Park, points to a wall pinned with note cards that spell out a backlog of maintenance projects for Acadia trails.

Gary Stellpflug

Gary Stellpflug (NPS photo)

The projects to improve Acadia National Park trails, including many that still require funding, stretch out to 2022. “We won’t run out of work, even at the present rate,” said Stellpflug.

Of the nearly $12 billion of backlogged maintenance in national parks across the country, Acadia weighs in with nearly $60 million including more than $9 million on hiking trails alone.

This year, the Acadia trails crew is involved in a major effort to reduce the maintenance backup, topped by a current overhaul of the Valley Cove Trail, which is located on the east side of St. Sauveur Mountain and runs along the west shore of Somes Sound, a 5-mile-long inlet that carves into Mount Desert Island.

Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression 80 years ago, the Valley Cove Trail was championed by park founder George B. Dorr as a way to access what he described as “an unusually beautiful shoreline” along the fjord-like Somes.

acadia national park hiking

Anyone trying to hike the Valley Cove Trail the last two years would have been greeted by trail closure signs warning of hazardous conditions, not just of peregrine falcon nesting.

Valley Cove Trail work to cost $300,000 in federal and private funds

The Valley Cove Trail has been closed to hikers for two years and has been in line for work for many years. The $300,000 project, planned in detail for the past year, includes $236,000 in federal money and $67,000 from the Friends of Acadia.

The trails maintenance program was not financed for many years, so the park is still facing a big logjam of work on the trails.

acadia national park

Vincent Sproul keeps tab of deferred maintenance projects in the cramped trailer that serves as the Acadia trails crew’s year-round office.

“In some ways, we’re still catching up from 1960,” Vincent Sproul, trails crew member and planner, said. “The trails program was always unfunded – until now.”

It can often be backbreaking work and a constant struggle, for instance, to keep up with maintenance of 125 bridges and 10,000 feet of wooden bog walk spread out on the park’s 147 trails including those on Isle au Haut, an island where the park owns 2,900 acres, and the Schoodic Peninsula, the only mainland section of the park.

Many bridges, including several on Bernard Mountain and the Bubble & Jordan Ponds Path, are in the pipeline for repairs, according to a long list of deferred maintenance projects provided by Sproul.

Kiosks on Acadia trails and carriage roads need repairs

A total of 23 kiosks in the park, including 18 on trails and five on the carriage roads, also need repairs, according to the list.

friends of acadia

Friends of Acadia supports the trails with an endowment

Unlike many national parks, Acadia trails benefit from a special endowment started in 1999. The $13 million fund to benefit the trails includes $9 million in private donations raised by the Friends of Acadia and $4 million in federal funds, mostly from the park’s entry fees.

A total of $318,000 from the Friends of Acadia in 2017, for example, financed a restoration of most of Seaside Path, which links the Jordan Pond area with the village of Seal Harbor.

A damaged stone stairway on the Valley Cove Trail in Acadia National Park

The Acadia trails crew is planning to replace these worn and loose steps along a massive rock slab on the Valley Cove Trail in Acadia National Park.

Work on the Valley Cove Trail will include new stone steps and improvements to drainage and tread support structures.

During a recent hike on the closed trail, with the permission of Stellpflug, we navigated some loose granite steps that could be dangerous and will be replaced, along with damaged bog walk, fallen trees and areas that will benefit from new drainage.

“Valley Cove has been in the system for years,” Sproul said. “Finally, this year, it came up. It will be challenging.”

Sale of federal helium helps fund work on Acadia trails

Money for some Acadia trails work stems from the little-known Helium Stewardship Act of 2013, which provides $20 million in fiscal 2018 from proceeds from the sale of federal helium, to be used for deferred maintenance projects requiring a minimum 50% match from a non-federal funding source.

Old bog walk on the Valley Cove Trail in Acadia National Park

During a hike on the closed Valley Cove Trail, we found rotted bog walk and drainage problems. The Acadia trails crew is working on a massive rehabilitation of the trail.

The Acadia trails crew benefits from skilled and experienced crew supervisors such as Christian Barter and Jeff Chapin and seasonal trail workers who return year after year to Acadia.

“We have some pretty talented people in this crew,” said Sproul. “We can get a lot done.”

 Stellpflug is aiming to complete the work on the Valley Cove Trail by the end of this year’s hiking season.

“We’ll have to see,” he said. “I think we can make it safe enough to open it by the end of this year.”

Spring Trail among historic trails set for resurfacing

Over the next two years, the crew is also planning $428,000 gravel resurfacing projects on about 20 historic hiking trails such as the Spring Trail, the Jordan Pond Nature Trail and Bubble & Jordan Ponds Path.

acadia national park hiking

Gravel resurfacing, like that seen here along the Asticou & Jordan Pond Path, will be among the projects to be worked on over the next two years on the Spring Trail, the Jordan Pond Nature Trail and Bubble & Jordaon Ponds Path.

Another project for this year is an $88,518 rehabilitation of the Beech Mountain South Ridge Trail, which goes steeply up 839-foot-high Beech Mountain, site of the park’s only fire tower. The work will include replacing and repairing many of the historic stone steps that make the hike more tolerable. The trails crew also worked on the Gorham Mountain Trail, which has been eroded in spots, detouring hikers through the Cadillac Cliffs Trail as needed.

Each year, the trails crew, often with the help of the Acadia Youth Conservation Corps or volunteers including many with the Friends of Acadia, chips away at a buildup of maintenance on the 125 bridges on the trails.

acadia national park hiking

The Acadia trails crew’s work is never done. During the off-season, damage to a relatively new footbridge on the popular Precipice Trail put this job near the top of the list for the 2018 hiking season. (NPS photo)

In 2017, 17 bridges were replaced including some complicated spans on the Precipice, Jordan Cliffs and Great Meadow, according to Stellpflug. This past winter, a footbridge on the Precipice was damaged, requiring the hauling of supplies and equipment up the precarious trail for the job.

Volunteers are often critical for trail maintenance, he added. Consider that in 2016, Friends of Acadia volunteers logged more than 1,000 hours in an “amazing effort” to install 700 feet of new bog walk to replace rotted walkway on the west side of Jordan Pond, according to Stellpflug.

Acadia trails cared for by crew, volunteers and youth

acadia national park hiking

The pile of rocks on the right was once a neatly laid set of stepping stones, allowing safe crossing along what would otherwise be an impassable ledge on the Valley Cove Trail. The Acadia trails crew will most likely be referring to a photo on page 187 in the Acadia Trails Treatment Plan, showing how neatly lined up the steps were in 1969.

Workers will remove this toppled tree on the Valley Cove Trail in Acadia National Park.

Trail resurfacing and removal of toppled trees are among $300,000 in work taking place during a rehabilitation of the Valley Cove Trail in Acadia National Park.

Larissa Fullmer, trail worker at Acadia National Park

Larissa Fullmer, a trail worker at Acadia National Park in 2017, says she doesn’t need a gym pass to keep in shape while working on projects like the Seaside Path.

acadia national park hiking

Jeff Chapin, crew supervisor, describes the cable and pulley system used to move huge boulders during Valley Trail reconstruction in 2017.

Members of Youth Conservation Corps swing sledge hammers to bust rocks as part of project on Sargent Mountain

From left to right, Liam Hassett, of Cleveland, Ransom Burgess, of Bar Harbor and Billy Brophy, of Hyattsville, Maryland swing sledge hammers to bust stones into tiny pieces for creating a 30-foot-long causeway atop Sargent Mountain in Acadia National Park in 2014. The three were members of the Youth Conservation Corps.

winter olympics

Even in winter, Friends of Acadia volunteer Jim Linnane helps maintain the trails, seen here fixing a Cadillac South Ridge Trail sign that had been upended by frost heaves, with the help of a couple of friends.

Charlie Jacobi, natural resource specialist for Acadia National Park.

Charlie Jacobi, recently retired natural resource specialist for Acadia National Park, hoists a bag of rocks over his shoulder on the peak of Sargent Mountain, while helping the trails crew in 2014. Jacobi and others took the rocks from a giant cairn on the peak and used them to help build a new protective causeway on the mountain top.

Acadia trails crew foreman Gary Stellpflug operating the excavator as part of Valley Trail resurfacing in 2017.

Dolores Kong & Dan Ring

About Dolores Kong & Dan Ring

Dolores Kong and Dan Ring are co-authors of the Falcon guides Hiking Acadia National Park and Best Easy Day Hikes Acadia National Park, and also blog at acadiaonmymind.com. They’ve backpacked the 270-plus miles of the Appalachian Trail in Maine, and are members of the Northeast 111 Club, having hiked all major peaks of the Northeast. Dolores, a former staff reporter at The Boston Globe, is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ Professional and senior vice president with Winslow, Evans & Crocker, Inc. (member of FINRA/SIPC) in Boston. Dan, a journalist and former Statehouse bureau chief in Boston for the old Ottaway News Service and for The Republican, the daily newspaper for Springfield, Mass, is also an operations professional with Winslow, Evans & Crocker, Inc. (member of FINRA/SIPC), in Boston. They are married and live outside Boston.