The weather has finally taken a turn for the better here on the Maine coast, and I was greatly anticipating my day of fieldwork, exulting in the sunshine and warmth. This week I was assigned to go out with Ridge Runners, who (besides me) seem to have the most engaging and entertaining job in the park. According to the website of Friends of Acadia, which funds the program, “Ridge Runners and the Recreation Technician are typically college-age students who serve as roving educators and researchers in the park. They are hired and trained by park rangers to spend the summer hiking Acadia’s trails, educating hikers in ‘Leave No Trace’ principles, performing light trail maintenance, and carrying out trail censuses and other park research.”
Many hikers these days are familiar with the concept of Leave No Trace (or LNT as it is fondly called), but many aren’t quite sure what the specific principles are. There are in fact seven specific principles, and they are as follows:
- Plan Ahead and Prepare
- Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
- Dispose of Waste Properly
- Leave What You Find
- Minimize Campfire Impacts
- Respect Wildlife
- Be Considerate of Other Visitors
All of these sound like common sense, but it is part of the Ridge Runners mission to make sure the public is informed about the basics of LNT and how they can help spread that awareness. I spent the day in the field with two Ridge Runners, Cecily Swinburne and Nicole Lavertu. Our first five hours in the field (approximately 9 A.M. to 2 P.M.) were spent on Cadillac Mountain, building, maintaining, and restoring cairns.
Cairns are small stone structures designed to indicate the trail to hikers. The style commonly used on Cadillac and much of that side of Mount Desert Island is the Bates Cairn, named for early Acadia trailbuilder Waldron Bates. The Bates Cairn is more rudimentary than a traditional conical cairn. It consists of two base stones, a level mantel atop them, and a pointer stone to show the direction of the path. These four stones are all that a Bates Cairn should consist of. A common problem and source of frustration for the Ridge Runners is visitor interference with the cairns. Many people like build their own cairns (which can be misleading and sometimes dangerous to hikers that depend on cairns to find their way) or add stones atop the already existing cairns. This interrupts the uniformity of the design, which is part of how hikers can distinguish a true trail-marking cairn, and also potentially can damage the landscape, as a rock picked from the soil atop a mountain is detrimental to the health of the environment. Stones provide habitat for insects, arachnids, and sometimes snakes, which need a stable environment to thrive. Also, stones are very important for the stability of the sparse soil on mountaintops.
The second major problem the Ridge Runners try to address is keeping people on paths, so they don’t widen the trails by trying to avoid mud and water. It is suggested that visitors try to “rock hop” through wet areas or otherwise just tromp right on through. The trail will be better for it in the end.
Our afternoon was mainly spent trying to impress these principles (in a friendly way) upon the hikers that passed through the junction of the very popular Beehive Trail and Gorham Mountain Trail. We counted approximately 130 people who stopped to look at the signs we had on display and talked to the Ridge Runners about LNT. Of course, that was only counting those who stopped to talk- imagine how many people could be bearing the message of LNT even further if we had been able to interact with every visitor who passed through!
I had a wonderful, tiring, thoroughly hands-on day in the field with the Ridge Runners and though I only met two (there are four Ridge Runners total, as well as one Recreation Technician) their energy and enthusiasm was contagious. I wish the Ridge Runners well in their noble mission. Leave no trace!