Pathmakers: Cultural Landscape Report for the Historic Hiking Trail System of Mount Desert Island, History, Existing Conditions, and Analysis

Pathmakers: Cultural Landscape Report for the Historic Hiking Trail System of Mount Desert Island, History, Existing Conditions, and Analysis
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Documents the history and significance of the trail system on Mount Desert Island.

Many of Acadia National Park's foot trails preceded the establishment of the park. The earliest pathmakers were Abenakis, who made trails for carrying canoes between lakes and for other practical reasons. European settlers later developed recreation trails. Summer visitors organized Village Improvement Associations and Village Improvement Societies, whose path committee volunteers created trails that were incorporated in 1916 into the new Sieur de Monts National Monument, precursor to Lafayette National Park (1919). Ten years later, the protected area was renamed Acadia National Park. It was the first national park to have sprung full-blown from philanthropy.

Volunteers and park crews, including President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s and early 1940s, expanded and maintained the trail system. Friends of Acadia was formed in 1986 to extend the philanthropic vision of the park founders. The organization later mounted Acadia Trails Forever, which matched $4 million in park entry fees with $9 million in private donations, to rehabilitate the footpaths over ten years. The model project made Acadia the first national park with an endowed trail system.

Each era of trail building and its individual pathmakers utilized different construction styles, standards and aesthetic nuances. The job of today's professional trail crew and its legion of volunteers is to honor the pathmakers of old by replicating their construction signatures whenever possible. National parks, after all, are repositories of history and culture, and the Park Service's legal duty of care is to preserve these magnificent places "unimpaired for the use and enjoyment of future generations."

Three important books guide Acadia's trail crews in that obligation: Preserving Historic Trails, the proceedings from an October 2000 conference of trail building experts from across the nation; this volume, Pathmakers: Cultural Landscape Report for the Historic Hiking Trail System of Acadia National Park (2005), a profusely illustrated history of trail building; and the second volume of the cultural landscape report, Acadia Trails Treatment Plan (2005), which lays out precise construction and maintenance techniques favoring the historically faithful preservation of Acadia's footpaths. These authoritative resources, and the park's Hiking Trails Management Plan, were compiled with input from one of the best kept secrets in the National Park Service, the Olmsted Center for Landscape Preservation, a coterie of landscape architects, historians and writers tucked away in Brookline, Massachusetts. The Olmsted staff collaborated over several years with Acadia's trail crew, one of the best in the 388-unit National Park System.

Each year, the Acadia Trails Forever project brings more trails up to the rehabilitation standards set forth in the cultural landscape report. Previously neglected features such as iron work, granite steps, bog bridges, log stringers, water bars, rock drains. Bates-style cairns and other historic features are carefully redone or added, complementing Acadia's natural splendor.

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Acadia Trails Treatment Plan: Cultural Landscape Report for the Historic Hiking Trail System of Acadia National Park can be found here:

Designing Sustainable Off-Highway Vehicle Trails : An Alaska Trail Manager\'s Perspective can be found here:

National Trails System: Map and Guide, 2010 Edition (Package of 100) can be found here:

Other products produced by the U.S. National Park Service can be found here:


Environmentalists, Historians, Educators, and Students would find it interesting to learn about the history of Acadia National Park and how Acadia's trail crews are working to preserve it.

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Interior Dept., National Park Service, Olmstead Center for Landscape Preservation
  • Brown, Margaret Coffin
2006: 340 p.; ill.
Key Phrases:
  • Outdoor Recreation
  • Maine
  • Trails
  • Mount Desert Island, Maine
SuDocs Class:
I 29.86/4:P 27
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