A Treasure Trove of Landscape Architecture at Acadia National Park

What a week! Margie, Ericka, and I just got back from an amazing time on Mt. Desert Island with the SUNY ESF Summer Field School team! With Ericka, a 6th generation Mt. Desert Islander, Margie, author of the Acadia National Park CLR, and the SUNY ESF team, I couldn’t have asked for better travel companions!

After spending the past weeks soaking up cultural landscape terminology at the Olmsted Center, I really appreciated this opportunity to see park design in real life. For example, earlier this summer, I had helped another intern, Ashley, with a photo simulation of new signage for Salem Maritime National Historic Site. At Acadia, I was able to see how signage that is consistent and properly located can really enhance the visitors’ experience. Similarly, I have been mapping the culverts for my Appomattox Court House project, and at Acadia, I got to see many examples of culverts, even in the rain!

This week, what really struck me was how much the trails, views, and roads of Acadia National Park are designed. In all honesty, prior to this trip I had had a very vague idea of trail design. (I kind of thought that trails were just made by deer or lots of foot traffic over time.) However, as I inventoried the hundreds of stone staircases, retaining walls, carefully laid stepping-stones, water dips, bridges, culverts, wood paths, and other trail features on the Orange and Black Trail, I realized that the park is a treasure trove of landscape architecture.


My favorite path, the Jesup Path. Felt like I was walking on a cloud through the forest. Loved the gentle curve of the wooden decking.


A beautiful example of stepping stones through a stream with the A. Murray Young Memorial plaque embedded in the rock on the left.


A beautiful bog walk on the way to the Canonbrook Trail


To inventory the trails, we used a “rolly wheel” to track the distance we had traveled and took pictures every 50 ft. If you look closely in the distance, you can see an orange cone showing where fifty feet from the wheel ends. We also used the wheel to track the location of different trail features such as retaining walls and steps.


Enjoyed inventorying and hiking with Jessey and Sarah from SUNY ESF!

Following the theme of finding landscape architecture where I didn’t think it existed, I was also very impressed by the roads and scenic view points within the park. Driving around with Margie and Ericka, I noticed how nicely the roads curved around to build up wonder and curiosity for the amazing views. The views became even more meaningful to me after John Kelly, a management specialist for the park, gave us a lecture on land conservation and park-community relations. One interesting project that John talked about was working with an entity that wanted to put aquaculture barges in the harbor. Fearful that the barges would inhibit the scenic views, John did a view analysis in which he mapped all of the locations on Mt. Desert Island where the barges would be seen. Arguing that views are one of the park’s major resources, John was able to prevent the construction of aquaculture barges in the harbor.


A view from one of the scenic road outlooks. Here I learned from Margie and Ericka about how trees frame the views. No aquaculture barges to be seen!

This week, we also had the opportunity to tour the Rosserne estate, Mountainview Farm, Abbe Aldrich Rockefeller Garden, Thuya Gardens, and Garland Farm. In contrast with the trails and roads, I would classify these as examples of unmistakable landscape architecture. At Rosserne and Mountainview, it was awesome having John Grove of the Reed Hilderbrand Landscape Architecture firm talk about working with the owner who had a clear interest in maintaining the sites’ historical integrity. 


John describing how his firm worked on preserving a view at Rosserne.

I also had fun walking around the Rockefeller Garden with Ericka since she had previously worked at the garden and knew all about the different plants and how they were selected.


Very interesting to see Asian garden elements side by side with in an English border garden at the Rockerfeller garden.

In my college classes, we talk about the “built environment,” and I always thought of cities. However, this week at Acadia made me wonder, what is the “built environment”? Since I really had not been aware of how much design goes into the park-making, especially trail-making, I had thought of parks like Acadia as separate from the “built environment.” For me, reframing the beautiful trails and roads in Acadia as part of the “built environment,” yet still in unity with the “natural environment,” gives the park a new meaning and a new cultural significance.


Looking forward to coming back to Acadia soon!

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