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