Acadia National Park’s trail system may join the park’s carriage roads, bridges and gatehouses on the National Register of Historic Places after the park’s application is reviewed by the National Park Service in the coming months. The hiking trail system then would become part of a small group of trails listed on the National Register.

The work done by the Civilian Conservation Corps trail crews in Acadia National Park in 1934 could be one reason the trails might be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Photo courtesy of Friends of Acadia

Acadia has 155 miles of trails, and the park is applying to put 120 miles on the National Register because of the historic stories the trails tell about early American landscape artists, land-conservation efforts of a century ago and even the nation’s political history, given the work done on the trails by the Civilian Conservation Corps under President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal.

Getting the trail system listed could help the park procure more federal funds and would assure that the trails will be maintained in their current state.

“In 50 years from now, if the trails are listed on the register, the next generation will have the same snapshot we have in 2019, and they can continue to keep the same standard of care,” said Acadia’s 20-year trail superintendent Gary Stellpflug. “Preserving the trails will be no different than preserving the Liberty Bell.”

There are more than 95,000 properties on the National Register, mostly buildings, neighborhoods, bridges and other structures. Fewer than 200 are trails, including those of civil-rights marches. Only five are on the East Coast, with just one in Maine – the Arnold Trail in Coburn Gore, which traces Benedict Arnold’s march to Quebec.

Acadia’s trail network would be the first that originated from paths taken by early American artists, such as those from the Hudson River School movement, like Fredric Church and Thomas Cole.

“Acadia has a very unusual history, in part because of its East Coast location. Many of the views are associated with the work of great landscape artists,” said Roger Reed, a historian with the National Register and National Historic Landmarks Program in Washington, D.C.

Also historically important is that the trails were built by village improvement societies – located in Bar Harbor, Seal Harbor, Northeast Harbor and Southwest Harbor – which were active in small communities a century ago. A significant part of the work was done by the Civilian Conservation Corps, a public relief program that ran from 1933 to 1942. Examples of the Corps’ rustic style can be found in the rock-lined drains, which have helped preserve the trails, and in the gravel-lined tread of the trails, elements found on the Ocean Path, the Long Pond Trail and the Perpendicular Trail, said Gail Gladstone, Acadia’s cultural resource program manager.

The period in question was from 1840 to 1940, Gladstone said.

A Civilian Conservation Corps trail crew works at Sieur de Monts Spring at Acadia National Park in 1933. Photo courtesy of Friends of Acadia

“There are many layers to these trails. And in a sense, the trails do help tell a story like a history book,” said Michael Goebel-Bain, the historic preservation coordinator at the Maine Historic Preservation Commission.

“This has been a long process, in part, because there are not a lot of comparables to go out and look at to see how the trails were done. It’s not the same as with a Greek revival house where you have hundreds or thousands of others that are listed.”

Acadia already has 105 distinct elements on the National Register, although many are part of the same collection of buildings, bridges, carriage roads or gatehouse complexes. Within the gatehouse complexes, for example, there are several structures, each listed separately but for the same reason, because “of their association with John D. Rockefeller Jr. and the affluent summer colony that resided in Mount Desert Island in the early 20th century,” according to the National Register.

The two campgrounds in the park also are listed on the National Register “because of their association with the New Deal programs and the Civilian Conservation Corps.”

A Civilian Conservation Corps trail crew work in Acadia National Park circa 1934. Photo courtesy of Friends of Acadia

Getting the trails listed has been a yearlong effort because of the detailed research needed to document the historic aspects of the trail system. The park first hired a consultant to gather the information needed, paid for in part by a $30,000 grant from the Friends of Acadia, said Earl Brechlin, the friends group’s communications director.

Stellpflug started the work to get the trails listed in the late 1990s, but never applied for the listing. He’s confident now they will be accepted.

“I’ve already bought the champagne,” he said.

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