Restoring Acadia’s Trails

By PORTER FOX for the NY Times

A 120-foot white pine shaded what was left of the trail. The best indication of which way to walk was an auburn arc of fallen pine needles, bending to the right. Then a small clearing. Then flecks of blue filtering through the branches and the muted growl of the Atlantic meeting the shore of Mount Desert Island, in Maine.

My guide, Christian Barter, a 6-foot-3 Acadia National Park trails work supervisor, blazed ahead in his size 13 work boots. He was wearing park service greens with tan gaiters over the pant legs and had dark smears across his forehead from working on the trails. Mr. Barter is a poet by profession, with two acclaimed books to his name. After working on Acadia’s trail crew for over two decades, he’s also become something of a trail-building scholar.

Mr. Barter, under the management of Gary Stellpflug, an Acadia trails foreman, has spent the last 15 years researching, cataloging and rebuilding century-old trails like the one we were on. Last month, he guided me along several routes, pointing out meticulous stonework and explaining what it took to unearth and rehabilitate the most elaborate trail system in the country. He described 19th-century “path-makers,” highbred gentlemen who spent summers armchair-engineering intricate paths around Mount Desert Island’s barren 1,500-foot peaks, glacial lakes and ironbound shoreline. Shards of afternoon sunlight fell between the trees as he spoke. A patch of golden thread blossoms alongside the trail mustered a streak of color against the dark green backdrop.

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