For students at College of the Atlantic (COA) and other area schools and colleges, Acadia provides unique opportunities for scientific research. High school and college students here have studied whales, beavers and wildflowers, but also public policy, history and law using the park as their laboratory.
Such research is a valuable part of the students’ education and, in many cases, also provides valuable data or perspectives to the National Park Service.
COA professor Ken Cline has been advising these research projects for nearly thirty years. He said park rangers are valuable mentors for his students, because both take a multidisciplinary approach to their work.
They wear multiple Smokey Bear hats, as it were.
“There may have been a time when being a biologist was the best training for working in the national parks,” Cline said. “You still need to know about the natural history. But so much of what happens in parks is about working with people. You have to be a policy person, maybe an artist, certainly an educator, sociologist… the list goes on.”
Recently, groups of students worked with Professors Steve Ressel and Dru Colbert and park staff to redesigned the nature center at Sieur de Monts Spring.
In the 1990s, a group of students including now-COA President Darron Collins, reviewed a draft of Acadia’s management plan, Cline said.
They carefully analyzed both the evidence presented and recommended actions in the plan, he said, and submitted formal comment recommending changes.
“The Park Service ended up changing their recommendations,” he said. The students’ comments weren’t the only reason for the change, but they were a valuable part of the public feedback.
Some sessions, Cline teaches a class called “The National Park Idea.”
Students spend time in the park, volunteer on trail projects and other work, and chew on some of the big questions that inform policy decisions.
They also dive into the history of Acadia, the National Park Service and land conservation movements. They hold a dinner party set in 1907, taking on roles of historical figures such as park co-founder George B. Dorr, John Jay Emery, Mrs. M.K. Jesup, Ernesto Fabbri, Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller, and others. They discuss land conservation and other issues of the day, such as whether to allow automobiles on Mount Desert Island.
“The names were just names before,” Cline said. “It gave them some sense of empathy for why the creation of the park was so unusual at the time and why was this so important to people.”
When the college community started planning for Centennial celebrations, he said, they decided to build a connector trail from the Dorr Natural History museum on campus, to the Duck Brook connector trail across Route 3 that leads up into the carriage road system.
Students started calling it the Centennial Trail, and the name has stuck.