It’s always challenging to start a new job, but can you imagine arriving at work on the eve of your employer’s biggest event of a century? Kevin B. Schneider took over the post of superintendent of Acadia National Park and the Saint Croix Island International Historic Site in January, so he at least had the winter months to settle in before Acadia’s centennial festivities begin in earnest.

We talked to Schneider about his career in the National Park Service, his hopes for Acadia and that fateful time he met a woman from Bangor in a pub in the west of Ireland.

RESUME: Schneider came to Acadia from Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park, where he was deputy superintendent for five years, as well as acting superintendent for a six-month stint. Before that he’d been the superintendent of White Sands National Monument, spent five years as park planner at Yellowstone and was management assistant at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

His exposure to national parks was limited as a teenager growing up in Chicago, but after a friend mentioned an interest in working as a volunteer with the Student Conservation Association, Schneider got curious himself and wrote them a letter. “This was before the Internet,” he said. The summer he was 17 he spent a month volunteering with the group in North Cascades National Park in Washington state, maintaining trails, camping out and falling in love with wilderness work. What started as a lark “was transformative for me.”

ON THE AGENDA: Thus promoting parks to young people is a specific goal of his. “These kinds of programs are personal for me because I am a product of one of them.” At Acadia, youth volunteers, many of them from Mount Desert Island, participate in a similar project. “Getting youth outside and into nature is really, really important. We know from studies that kids aren’t spending enough time outdoors and there are so many benefits to it. That’s really one of our objectives.” As Schneider points out, every fourth-grader in America is eligible for a free pass into our national parks and waters (thanks to a program established by President Obama).

THE FIRST TIME: While he was a student at Colorado State University, he drove across country with friends to take a backpacking trip in Maine. The focus was Baxter State Park, but of course they had to swing by Acadia. “We camped at Blackwoods,” Schneider remembers. And drove up Cadillac, “but it was one of those foggy days.” (Which feels like an Acadia rite of passage.) He was 19 or 20. “The park spoke to me then.”


TIMING IS EVERYTHING: It still speaks to him. Last summer Schneider camped out at Blackwoods again, with his wife and two young children (they’re 6 and 3). They rented bikes, ate lobster, went to Jordan Pond House and had a great time. The very next week, back in Grand Teton, Schneider heard the news that Sheridan Steele was retiring from the position of Acadia superintendent and the job was open. It didn’t take long for him to throw his hat in the ring: “It was a pretty quick conversation.” he said. “Frankly, there weren’t many places I would have left Grand Teton for.”

DARE TO DREAM: The funny thing is, Schneider had nearly put a hex on his job chances at Acadia way back in 2003. He was traveling in Ireland when he walked into a pub owned by the Chieftains’ flute player Matt Molloy and met a young woman from Bangor named Cate. She was in Ireland to run a half marathon with girlfriends. They hit it off and got serious fast. During their discussions of how unrealistic a long-distance relationship would be, Schneider said he gave her a warning about the potential for ending up in Maine. “I said to her, ‘There is only one national park in Maine, and it is very unlikely that I am going to get to work there.’ ” Sometimes it is good to be wrong.

DAUNTING? The couple have just bought a house in Bar Harbor and are moving in, while trying to also make time for trips to Sand Beach and such on the weekends. Meanwhile, Schneider is working to coordinate what promises to be the park’s biggest year ever (“I think we are going to top 3 million visitors for the first time”). Is it nerve-racking to take on a job this big in the middle of a party this big? “It is humbling,” he said. “To be here with our centennial and to see the celebration this park is getting from this community. I have never seen anything like it. People are very proud of Acadia.”

NO DESK JOB: His goals include addressing issues of congestion (like the parking problems at Sand Beach) and balancing the park’s ever growing popularity with quality experiences for all. He also wants to make sure he spends time in the outdoors himself. “I remind myself that my job isn’t about being stuck in an office all day long. It’s important to be talking to folks in the community. Honestly, some of the best conversations you can have with people are on a trail. Being outside leads to increased creativity.”

TRAIL MIX: He hasn’t settled on a favorite hike in Acadia yet. “I am building that sort of personal knowledge of the park,” he said. “Frankly, it almost doesn’t even matter which one you take. Once you get up there and start seeing the views, whether it is from Cadillac or Parkman or Champlain. And then there are the carriage roads.” Can you tell he loves to hike? “If I could do one thing for the rest of my life, it would be hiking.”


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