Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park


"In wildness is the preservation of the earth."

—Henry David Thoreau

So wrote America’s great naturalist-philosopher more than a century ago. A frequent visitor to Maine’s north woods, Thoreau well understood the healing powers of this vast, virgin landscape. By preserving such wildness, he wrote, we are also ensuring our own survival—not just physically, but spiritually.

Every year, millions of visitors travel to Acadia in search of the wildness Thoreau described, making it one of the top 10 most visited national parks in the country. Such popularity has led to a pressing—and complex—dilemma faced by park officials; the more people who seek out Acadia’s special beauty, the more endangered that beauty becomes. To preserve Acadia for future generations, park officials must balance visitor use with the protection of the park’s precious natural resources.

Areas at Risk

Not surprisingly, some of Acadia’s most sought-out attractions are also its most vulnerable. The summit of Cadillac Mountain would seem impervious to man or nature. Yet this granite dome is also home to a fragile environment of subalpine vegetation, low-lying heathers, shrubs, berries and wildflowers, which are extremely sensitive to the feet of visitors who clamber over them.

The island’s sea caves are a unique oceanside habitat that once supported a variety of marine life. Today, those species are greatly depleted. Some creatures may have been collected as souvenirs, but park naturalists speculate that human footsteps alone may have been enough to disturb this fragile environment.

Air quality is also a concern at Acadia. The propane powered Island Explorer shuttle buses reduce the amount of pollutants and greenhouse gases released into the air by offering an alternative to private vehicle transportation.

Restoring Acadia

The challenges Acadia faces are many. Fortunately, the notion of preservation is as old as the park itself. George Dorr, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and the park’s other founders were all crusading conservationists working to protect Mount Desert Island from the ravages of the sawmill and automobile. In all, more than 35,000 acres of land were donated, so that they might be preserved in their natural state for public use. Similar foresight and public-spiritedness have animated Acadia ever since.

Progress has been made to restore some of Acadia’s hiking trails, thanks to the park’s trail crews and volunteers, and members of the Youth Conservation Corps. Each summer, they clear trails, build cedar and stone terraces along paths, construct drainage systems and build bog walks in wetlands.

Park officials have prepared a long-term general management plan for Acadia, weighing how best to serve both the park and its visitors. The options include redirecting visitors to under-utilized sections of Acadia, limiting access during the peak season, extending one-way traffic on Park Loop Road or maintaining the status quo. Generally, the Island Explorer shuttle bus system carries more than 350,000 passengers to and from the park from mid-June to Columbus Day. Studies are being conducted to document the exact impact of visitor use on animal and plant life.

Tranquility Project

Some of the challenges Acadia faces don’t come from within the park. Because parklands and private property are interspersed, the park inevitably feels the impact of growth and development in neighboring communities.

Friends of Acadia is an organization that has undertaken programs to help visitors and residents contribute to the protection of Acadia. The Tranquility Project is a direct-action campaign to restore and maintain the quiet nature of Mount Desert Island. Components of the campaign include expanding the low-emissions Island Explorer bus system, fighting for additional Congressional funds to sustain park programs and establishing an off-island visitor center and transportation hub to reduce automobile congestion from day traffic and commuters.

Visitors are encouraged to attend park programs, visit museums and take guided tours to learn about Acadia and Mount Desert Island. Be sure to practice "Leave No Trace" principles when visiting the park.

Lasting Trails

Rock slides, natural erosion and millions of visitors place a heavy toll on the trails of Acadia National Park. To combat Acadia’s trail degradation, Friends of Acadia and Acadia National Park launched “Acadia Trails Forever,” a $13 million partnership to reverse the effects of these inevitable events. Friends of Acadia is contributing $9 million of the funding, while the balance comes from park admission fees. Beginning in 2000 and over a 10-year period, the program allocates $6.5 million to trail reconstruction and $6.5 million for Friends of Acadia endowments to maintain Acadia’s 130-mile foot trail system each year.


Along with many national parks, Acadia has undertaken a solid waste recycling program that includes the recycling of items used by visitors. Bins for recycling glass, plastic and aluminum are placed throughout the park (regular garbage containers are available for other waste). From 2001 to 2005, the park’s program, which includes materials from both staff and visitors, recycled an average of more than 18 tons of newsprint, cardboard, plastic and glass per year.