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ADVENTURE 11: Getting Carriaged Away (Acadia NP)

Updated: Jun 15, 2022

Tuesday, 7 June 2022, Acadia NP

National Parks are fantastic!

Obviously I feel that way about all National Parks, given this challenge I have taken on. Still, I have felt even more deeply connected to a handful of parks, a few that speak to my soul, parks in which I feel totally at home. Rock Mountain ranks as such, as that park weaned my love of National Parks, and it hosted Sue and I exchanging our vows. Olympic - with its diversity of mountains, rain forests, and rocky beaches - had me on my first visit.

Acadia joins these parks.

Each trip there has been special, none more so than 29 years ago, when - during a snowstorm - Sue and I walked away from the park entrance, taking the first steps of our cross-country Litterwalk.

Driving to the park three decades later triggered those memories. Though the years have changed the commercial/retail landscape of the roads, I still recognized some landmarks. The World Traders store - seems like we stopped in there for a few minutes, looking at postcards and taken a break from the snow outside. Is that the Thai restaurant we had lunch at, where a diner at the next table gave us advice that prevented a looming disaster for our trip? And there - the hotel/cabins we holed up on our first night.

So much for old memories - time to make new ones. With free time until 1:00, I had reserved a bike to explore Acadia's unique feature - its cnetwork of arriage roads. First, a little history:

In the early years of National Parks, all parks lay in the magnificent landscapes of the far west. To bring the parks' popularity to all Americans - and to dilute the resentment the 'every-day person' felt paying taxes to support parks they would never see - conservationists worked toward an eastern park.

Up stepped John D. Rockefeller Jr. He owned land on Mt. Desert Island in Maine, and hobnobbed with other wealthy landowners. He convinced them to donate their lands to create a federal park. In 1916, President Wilson took the donated land and established Sieur de Monts National Monument, named after an early French explorer [remember that name in a couple of days]. Congress elevated the land to Lafayette National Park in 1919, and rechristened it as Acadia NP in 1929 (also adding Schoodic Peninsula to the park that same year).

As part of his vision for the park, from 1915-1940 Rockefeller designed and developed a network of carriage roads throughout the park, connecting points of interest.

He banned automobiles from these lanes, reserving them for horse-drawn carriages (and for hikers and bikers). Forty-five miles of paths remain in Acadia today, a legacy for the park.

Starting from the rental shop in downtown Bar Harbor, you must pedal nearly a mile up a steady grade to reach the carriage roads (but you get to glide downhill when you finish your ride!). The Duck Brook Bridge - one of two three-arch bridges in the park - takes you to the start of the road network. (Each of the park's bridges - though designed by the same person - has a different architectural style.)

The cariage roads all have a crushed rock surface, perfect for the mountain bikes rented in town. Perfect, maybe - but I had to adapt. Sure, I may log thousands of miles every year on my bike - on paved roads. I'd forgotten how much more effort (and slower speeds) gravel roads take.

Today I was far from the fastest person on two wheels.

I pointed my bike south. The road stayed flat until it passed Breakneck Pond, then rose slowly as it skirted the west side of Eagle Lake

(the park's only 'lake'; the rest are named ponds). I had time, so I kept climbing to the Jordan Pond overlooks,

then followed it down to Jordan Pond House.

The House - and the adjacent Pond - attract throngs of people for the gift shops, restaurant, picnic tables, and views.

The pond - Maine's deepest lake at 150' - features iconic views of Acadia - indeed, my photo from many decades ago graces the main page of this blog. I had to stop and update my Acadia portfolio with sunny-day pictures, since my others came about on an overcast day.

Heading back to town now took my up the climb overlooking Jordan Pond, but I must have finally adapted to the bike and had no difficulty. I then cycled up to small Bubble Pond,

and then along the east shore of Eagle Lake.

The lakes/ponds in the park provide drinking water for the area, and thus prohibit human uses of them (i.e., no swimming, wading, etc.), but boating is allowed on Eagle Lake, as I discovered as I passed the boat launch. Soon I crossed over the Duck Pond Bridge, leaving me with only the downhill glide to go.

For the afternoon, the main event was the only-in-Acadia feature of a horse-drawn carriage ride. Wildwood Stables has teams of Percherons and Clydesdales, but our carriage rolled along under the power of a Belgian breed, the Strawberry Roan.

I joined a party of four as we meandered along several more miles of carriage roads, with our guide Meryl talking about the history and construction of the paths. Some notes:

Though he donated much land to Acadia park, Rockefeller did not have a long-standing connection here. When his third child neared its due date, their doctor said he could not deliver this new child since he'd planned to vacation in Maine at the time. Some people would then find a new doctor to cover for him; instead, Rockefeller packed up his household and servants and followed the doc here. As the place enchanted him, he started looking for a summer home.

He bought a cottage 65-room cottage named the Iyre ("eye-ree", an alternate spelling of aerie or eagle's nest) and added another 35 rooms to it. They still called it a cottage, not a mansion like his New York home. Why? Because a mansion must have a ballroom, which the Iyre did not. Oh, such problems that beset the wealthy.

Rockefeller originally planned to build all the bridges with cobble. However, halfway through building the first bridge,

he ran out of local cobble. (He had to use cobble that Italian steamships used for ballast.) So much for all-cobble bridges.

Rockefeller loved to spend all day out his horse or walking the paths he built. He planted shade trees at strategic locations where he could rest, and planted huckleberry and blueberry bushes so he would have snacks readily available. He also declined to post any directional signs or mileages on the roads - if he got lost, he would just get back later - or the next day.

Adjacent to the south boundary of the park lies the Land and Gardens Preserve, another legacy property with carriage roads continuing into it. However, bikes are prohibited from this land. Years ago, a bicyclist and a horse collided, and they had to put the horse down. Since then the Preserve has banned all bicycles. (Did you know that if a horse sees an unattended bicycle by the roadside, it will freak out - but if someone stands by the bike, everything's cool again.)

The roads are built with layers of rock, topped with crushed stone for the bed. Rockefeller used no mortar on the roads, which allows rain water to flow through the road instead of pooling and eroding the surface. At the edge of the road, he put coping stones to act as a sort of guardrail. People took to calling them "Rockefeller's teeth."

Rockefeller's wife died in 1948, and he remarried three years later. His new wife didn't like children, horses, or Maine. (can you say 'opposites attract?') Thus, when he died in 1960, she declined to keep Iyre, and his children all had their own properties, so according to his wishes, Iyre was demolished. However, locals claimed many of the furnishings and fixtures, so you may wander into a restaurant in town and see a door or table from the cottage.

The guide answered questions we put forth. One guest asked, "What animal is a threat to moose?"

"They're the biggest animals in the park,: Meryl answered, "so they don't really have any enemies... Oh, wait. The biggest threat to a moose is a tick."

I completed the ride by 4:00, plenty of time to squeeze in a hike. I noticed the Hadley Ponds nearby, and having not seen them before, I drove over. Lower Hadley Pond surprised me with a large pink house overlooking it - perhaps owned by the Hadleys?

The trail around the pond kept me wary of my footing - not a simple stroll along the lakeshore.

But hey! Acadia's diversity is its attraction.

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