It has been a little over one week since our last day in Acadia National Park (July 24th), giving us all time to reflect on our efforts during the 2015 Field School. For many of us the contrast is overwhelming: days spent hiking, inventorying, taking photos, entering data, and recording qualitative impressions in journals are complete, replaced with some R&R, and an appreciation for just how much may be accomplished in one day.
On a personal note, recent experiences on a family vacation caused me to think back again on Acadia, this time through the lens of another insular historic landscape: Mackinac Island. Like Mt. Desert Island, Mackinaw Island has for over 100 years been a vacation destination, an escape from urban centers and the “fast pace” of everyday life. Like Mt. Desert Island, most of Mackinac Island is occupied by a park (first a national park established in 1875, then transferred to state control in 1895 as Michigan’s first state park). Mackinac offers a unique perspective on Acadia: what it may have been like without automobiles. Mackinac’s only means of transportation to this day are on foot, by bicycle, or by horse-drawn carriage. Even the transportation to the island retains its historic character: passage by boat (no causeway or bridge connects the Island to the upper or lower peninsulas of Michigan). This modal change in circulation does seem to underscore the separation between the “mainland” and the Island. Similarly, I would imagine the early summer visitors to Mt. Desert Island felt as if the passage by sea was a definitive transition into a more leisurely world.
So, more specifically, what is it that transports us to another time? Is the mode of transportation to our destination? Is it the mode of transportation once there? In both cases, these have been preserved in Mackinaw, but not in Acadia. Yet, within the trails at Acadia, we can still step back in time to experience the landscape and its vistas in the same way that early Acadians did. It is the character of the trails that allows for this transportation. The documentation of the character through cultural landscape reports and the first-hand knowledge of the trails crew help to safe-guard this transformative experience for future generations. Our work during the field school, including a detailed trail inventory and qualitative evaluations of hiking trails within the Bar Harbor District, will inform a cultural landscape inventory for the district, itself a codex of contributing landscape features (culturally and/or historically significant) specific to each trail. The cultural landscape inventory may then be used to inform future management decisions whose outcome has a direct relationship with the visitor experience.
Our time at Acadia National Park was an evolution, beginning first with simply identifying features, their numerous variations, and their purpose. Techniques of linear referencing using a rolly-wheel were acquired, as well as an understanding of the existing trails database maintained by the park that was used as an in-field reference. Through lectures with the park service staff we learned about the complex balance of values (cultural, social, and natural) that is involved in park management. Direct observations of techniques involved in maintaining the trails deepened our understanding of the importance of our inventory work, as did learning about the historical background that forms the basis for choosing these techniques. We also learned about the unique public/private partnerships, such as Friends of Acadia, that facilitate the perpetuation of the historic trails and their character. “Extra-curricular” trips to the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Garden, Rosserne, Garland Farm, and Thuya Garden helped us to understand the unique place Mt. Desert Island holds in the evolution of landscape architecture in the United States. The graduate students participated in the creation of an individual trail specification for the Seaside Path, a form of “mini” cultural landscape report that examines historical significance of the trail and treatment options for its eventual rehabilitation.
At the end of our time at Acadia we each take with us memories of meals together, inside jokes (Gosh tarn it!), beautiful vistas and intimate woodland retreats, a knowledge of management practices, and an appreciation for the dedication of Park staff to maintaining both the tangible trail features and the trail character to which the features contribute. Perhaps the best way to say goodbye to our friends at Acadia is in the words of Shel Silverstein:
“There are no happy endings.
Endings are the saddest part.
So just give me a happy middle
and a very happy start.”