Ridge Runner Blog
Sponsored by Friends of Acadia, ridge runners hike Acadia's trails while educating hikers about Leave No Trace principles, performing trail maintenance, and carrying out trail censuses and other park research. Read more about their adventures here.
2009 Ridge Runners - Cecily, Ethan, and Jeremy
July 2009. The dreary weather this summer may be keeping some visitors off the trails, but it has given us plenty of time to build cairns. As a ridge runner, one of our primary tasks is to build and maintain cairns along Acadia’s hiking trails.
The cairns are intended to guide hikers and keep them on trail. On much of the eastern side of Acadia we use the Bates-style cairn—named for Waldron Bates, an early trail builder with the Bar Harbor Village Improvement Society.
We started our cairn maintenance this summer on the north and south ridges of Cadillac, using the biggest rocks we could find and carry. While size helps, placement seems to be key to making cairns visible. When possible, we try to place them so that they would be silhouetted against the sky.
The large rocks also make the cairns more difficult to tamper with, an ongoing problem throughout the park. On some days we will build cairns as we hike up the trail, and on the way down we have to fix them. The most common problem is visitors adding rocks to the top of our cairns, but at other times they will be completely dismantled. While I enjoy building quality cairns, it is frustrating to have to continually rebuild them.
When not building cairns, we can sometimes be found destroying them. Miscellaneous cairns and other rock sculptures propagate throughout the park. These can be misleading for hikers looking for cairns that mark the trail, but it also causes erosion and creates works of modern “art” on Acadia’s summits and beaches—perhaps not the views that visitors came here to see.
And when we are not building and destroying cairns, you can find the ridge runners talking with visitors: explaining the work we do on the cairns and asking them not to build their own.
July 2009. An interesting part of our job as ridge runners that I did not fully anticipate was the scope and scale in which we try to spread the Leave No Trace (LNT) philosophy. Our job reminds me of certain salesmen who manage to draw you into their souvenir shops to buy things you really don’t need, yet they somehow do an amazing job of convincing you and you walk away with a rug or flute. Many people don’t expect to receive an educational talk from a rock on the side of the trail. If we don’t manage to engage the hikers’ attention with friendly small talk or a tactful reminder of the LNT principles, they are uninterested in hearing what we have to say. We must strike a fine balance: we are aiming for a grand total of 3,750 contacts by the end of the summer (an ambitious sum), so we have to be upfront in trying to attract the attention of visitors, and yet we must be relaxed and congenial enough that people retain the information we tell them. From my own experience, people are much more willing to listen to a few ridge runners talk about LNT at the start of a trail, a lookout, or a parking lot than in the middle of the trail as they are exerting themselves. Sometimes it is possible to get quality LNT contacts as we are hiking along doing other duties like cairn building, but our greatest success comes when we station ourselves in a popular place and focus solely on being showmen and presenting LNT.
July 2009. It seems that for nearly every ten feet of trail, there’s another three trails branching off from it. As I’ve been hiking around Acadia, I find that I am often scavenging the woods for another dead tree to block off yet another social path. We discourage these new routes for a number of reasons. First, it tends to confuse other hikers when they come across an intersection of three or more trails. Yes, maybe there is a cairn or a blaze on the correct trail to make there decision easier, but maybe there isn’t. It suddenly becomes a game of chance on where they choose to go. One way leading to the next marker and they get to move on, and the other leading to who knows where—maybe a cliff, or random ledge, or a pit of spikes (okay, not really the last one)
This is certainly one of our main duties of maintaining the trails. These social trails can be very hard to spot and you are always on an endless, corner-of-the-eye, hunt. There is nothing good that comes from making these new trails. Not only does it kill the vegetation in that area, but also the greenery is replaced by either bare ground, or dead branches and trees. I’d prefer greenery any day, but maybe that’s just me.
2008 Ridge Runners
July 9, 2008. Hello all! My name is Vassar, and I will be working this summer as a ridge runner here in Acadia National Park. What does that mean? Well, I’ll be out on the trails hiking, meeting visitors that are out there enjoying the extensive trail system. I love to talk to visitors, answering any questions they may have, from the name of a tree, to the history of the park, to “what trail should I take down the mountain?” I also love to talk about Leave No Trace, which is one way we can keep the park looking as beautiful in 10 years as it is today, and which we will talk a lot about later on. I wanted to work as a ridge runner this summer because I love to be outside, getting exercise, meeting interesting people, and experiencing what Acadia has to offer (let me tell you…it’s a lot) every day.
July 16, 2008. Hi! I’m Elaine, and I’m back for my second season as a ridge runner in Acadia National Park! The Ridge Runner program is the result of a unique collaboration between the park and Friends of Acadia. Through the generosity of donors, Friends of Acadia is able to fund five full-time summer positions, and I was lucky enough to be chosen for one of them. I think I have the best job in the world—I get to spend my summer hiking the trails of Acadia!
One of my jobs as a ridge runner is building and maintaining cairns, the rock structures that help to guide hikers on the trail. I love the challenge of finding the perfect combination of stones and placing them exactly right so that the cairn is big enough to be seen from a distance, and sturdy enough to not topple over. Another thing I do is talk about the principles of Leave No Trace with visitors I encounter. With millions of people coming to Acadia each year, the only way we can maintain the splendor of this place is to keep our impacts on the natural environment as small as possible. I’d write more about what I do in the park, but… it’s time to go hiking!
July 23, 2008. Hi, my name is Noreen and I’m working in my backyard park this summer. Living on Mount Desert Island allows me to enjoy Acadia year round…well, for the most part. In the past hiking was limited to autumn, winter, mud season and spring. It seemed like summer was so busy with other work that I could only get out biking on the Park Loop Road, up Cadillac, or on the carriage roads. I only got out hiking in the “off season.”
Now as a ridge runner I am exploring, building, and maintaining trail cairns in the height of the summer. Ridge running is like being a goodwill ambassador for Friends of Acadia and Acadia National Park. Initially it may seem like an easy job…hiking, moving rocks, picking up micro-trash, taking summit counts, and teaching kids and their families about Leave No Trace. It’s not always easy, but it is a lot of fun.
We are wonderfully distracted these days by the bumper-crop year for blueberries! Snacks galore surround us in Acadia. Yesterday on fog-covered Pemetic Mountain we moved cairns, ate blueberries, brushed in braided trails, ate blueberries, talked LNT with visitors, ate blueberries, picked up micro-trash, ate blueberries, identified plants, ate blueberries, and left no trace. It’s amazing what can be packed into one day!
July 30, 2008. Last Saturday (the last day of my 5-day work week) I had some tired legs from all my hiking. But the weather was so gorgeous and clear, I wanted to get to the top of the mountains in Acadia so I could enjoy the view for miles. When I got to the top of South Bubble, I noticed a large group of friends and family picnicking and having a really good time. After learning a little bit about them I talked to them about Leave No Trace, specifically the principle “Dispose of Waste Properly.” That makes sense right? If you bring something into the park, you should take any of that trash out with you. Well, this group understood that. Despite that, one of the adults in the group was eating oranges and tossing the peels over the ledge since they are biodegradable. I talked to him about how those orange peels will most likely be found by wildlife in the park—and the diets of animals here in Maine shouldn’t include orange peels! The guy I talked to was really cool and ended up taking the rest of his orange peel out with him in his pack.
That’s why we are out on the trail teaching Leave No Trace! Sometimes people just don’t know, and the only way to learn is if someone teaches it to you.
August 6, 2008. One of my favorite things about hiking in Acadia National Park during the summer is Vaccinium angustifolium, also known as the wild blueberry. They grow by the millions all over the park, on forested trails and rocky summits. Some days, I have to hike quickly to the top of a mountain for a timed summit count. I’m usually late, and it’s always because I keep stopping to pick blueberries! I just can’t pass them by when I spot a tantalizingly perfect clump dangling just over the edge of the trail. I get so excited sometimes that it’s hard to remember my Leave No Trace training to stay on durable surfaces, but I do my best to step only on rocks when I venture slightly off-trail in pursuit. Already, this is the best crop of blueberries I’ve seen in years, and I’ve been encouraging everyone I meet on the trail to take advantage of this particularly delicious natural resource. I won’t give away my secret blueberry-picking locations, but I guarantee you’ll soon find your own favorite spots!
August 13, 2008. A few weeks ago, Ranger Charlie, Ridge Runner Mary, and I hiked up Gorham Mountain to do a summit count and tell people about Leave No Trace. We had the usual crowd of families from Vermont, California honeymooners, college students, and little kids eager to get to the top before their older siblings. As the three of us headed down the mountain, around the corner appeared a stroller being pushed by a very energetic dad. Normally parents put their kids in a baby backpack, but this occupant was a boy about 7 years old with special needs. We were astounded! Gorham is full of large rocks and steps that this dad was navigating UP the mountain so the whole family could enjoy Acadia. This was not their first hike. They had already climbed/pushed/rolled up the Razorback Trail and were inquiring about more. It was inspiring to see their enthusiasm and love for adventure not being thwarted by what might stop others.
If you wonder if this job is easy, hard, fun, or inspiring, I’d say it’s a combination of it all. And, even on the hot, sticky days, when an un-named colleague says, “It’s 8:30 and I’m already sweating through my pants,” it’s still going to be a good day in Acadia.
August 21, 2008. Hello!! My name is Ryan. I am the Recreation Technician this summer, working on the trails and talking to visitors about Leave No Trace. I do many of the ridge runner duties as well, working on research projects taking place in the park and using GPS to map illegal trails.
This past week I had the opportunity to work with a group of visiting scientists on how to best maintain the trails in the park. It was cool to see the different options proposed by the scientists to help decrease the amount of impact on the areas immediately bordering the trails. Oftentimes visitors will venture off the trail for a better view of a mountain or the ocean, and this causes a serious impact to areas off the trail. It is important to protect the delicate plants that border the trails. Why, you ask? Because if everyone were to go off the trails whenever they wanted, the natural integrity of the area would be diminished. In other words, the reason we go to the park, to see a beautiful natural landscape, would be ruined. That is why this research is important. It also makes me feel great to know that part of my job every day is to help inform visitors about how they can protect this place we love so much.
August 28, 2008. There is not a day at work in the park that I don’t enjoy as a ridge runner. Today I hiked up the South Ridge of Cadillac Mountain. It was my first time up this trail, as well as my first full day out on my own “running” the trails. I can see now why so many people enjoy this trail. The trail starts out gently sloping through the woods and eventually comes out on a wide-open ridgeline with views that stretch for miles. I could see Pemetic, Penobscot, and Sargent mountains to the west, Blue Hill Bay to the north, and the Cranberry Isles to the south. There are not too many places that I can think of with the same spectacular mixture of mountains and ocean stretching across the horizon.
While I was having my lunch break I took some time to stop and listen to the wind rustling in the dry leaves. Sitting on the mountainside, over looking the rocky ledges and forested slopes of the park surrounding me, I felt a sense of solitude that only Acadia can provide.