Originally created 08/08/99

Mountains provide escape



BAR HARBOR, Maine -- Large granite stones that define the edges of the historic carriage roads at Acadia National Park are sometimes referred to by locals as "Mr. Rockefeller's teeth."

And for the first time in recent memory, those stones have been given a good flossing.

Improving drainage by removing vegetation that sprung up between the stones was part of a $6 million reconstruction of the 44-mile network of carriage roads that John D. Rockefeller Jr. built and donated to the park. They link up with 13 miles of carriage roads on Rockefeller-owned land also open to the public.

The carriage roads offer an easy route to the scenic vistas where the mountains and coast meet at Acadia. There are also automobile roads and 130 miles of hiking trails.

As deer browse in the woods and hawks circle overhead, the carriage roads meander around pristine lakes and ascend to lookout points offering panoramic seascapes of granite shorelines and offshore islands dotted by the occasional lobster boat.

The park, about 47 miles southeast of Bangor, draws 3 million visitors a year -- including mountain bikers, hikers, joggers, cyclists and equestrians.

In addition to carriage rides, boat cruises through the islands are also available.

The park is open year-round, but the visitors center is open only from May 1 to Oct. 31.

The carriage road reconstruction was a six-year project completed last fall.

"It all came together just as if John D. himself was up there, pushing the buttons," says Ed Winterberg, a Kentucky lawyer who runs Wildwood Stables, a park concession that rents horse stalls and offers carriage tours to the public.

"These roads are valuable, not only as a

great recreational resource, but as an important cultural re-source," says Jim Vekasi, the park's director of maintenance. "It's perhaps the finest example of broken-stone roads anywhere in the country."

The Rockefeller roads evoke a time and place when life was slower and more genteel, with a turn-of-the-century ambiance.

The mood is amplified by Mr. Winterberg's horse-drawn carriage rides to Day Mountain and the afternoon tradition of popovers and tea served at the Jordan Pond House, a popular dining spot.

One of the challenges facing the park and its advocates is to maintain that bucolic character at a time when mountain bikes -- not horses -- account for most of the traffic on carriage roads.

"The carriage roads really were designed to be enjoyed at a slower pace," says Charlie Jacobi, a natural resource specialist at the park. "We don't expect Acadia to provide a wilderness experience, but we do want to provide whatever solitude and peacefulness we can."

Mr. Rockefeller himself decided that bicyclists should have access to the roads, which are closed to motorized traffic. But he could hardly have envisioned the impact of the mountain bike, whose fat tires and 21 speeds enable riders to remain upright on the gravel surface and penetrate the furthest reaches of the park.

Complaints arise from time to time, but park officials say efforts to educate bikers to slow down and provide proper warnings to those traveling on foot have paid off.

"I'd say 95 percent or more of the bicyclists are reasonable about keeping to a slower pace," Mr. Jacobi said. "It's only a small minority that wants to treat the roads as a racetrack and don't care much about the other users out there."

Carriage roads on the Rockefeller land adjacent to the park do not allow bicycles but provide greater latitude to pet owners by letting them walk their dogs without leashes.

After Mr. Rockefeller's death in 1960, the National Park Service took over the roads. They gradually fell into disrepair as funds dried up. By the 1980s, the 16-foot-wide roads had narrowed to the point where 25 percent were only 8 feet wide.

"We had trees growing in the pavement up to 4 inches in diameter," Mr. Vekasi recalls. Time and weather ate away at the road surface, blocking proper drainage and leaving some places a muddy mess.

The restoration was intended to rebuild the roads to the exacting standards that Mr. Rockefeller set when he personally oversaw their design and construction between 1913 and 1940.

Those involved in the project took pains to ensure that the reconstruction did not strip the roads of their historic authenticity. As if Mr. Rockefeller were keeping watch, crews surveyed the entire network of roads to keep the work consistent with the philanthropist's original design.

To recapture their glory, crews cleaned out ditches, reset stones, repaired or replaced culverts and retaining walls, re-established crowns and elevations, and installed new surface materials.

The park will soon rehabilitate the gatehouses and stone bridges along the carriage roads. Drainage problems and decades of freeze-and-thaw cycles have taken their toll, and officials hope to raise the estimated $2 million needed to complete that work.

To forestall the possibility that the roads might again sink into disrepair, Friends of Acadia has raised about $5 million as an endowment for future maintenance.

If you go

GETTING THERE: Acadia National Park, one of Maine's most popular tourist destinations, is about 250 miles northeast of Boston, via either the Maine Turnpike to Route 3 in Augusta or Interstate 95 to Bangor and then onto I-395, U.S. 1A and Route 3. Follow the signs to Bar Harbor. Air fare from Atlanta to Bangor for a mid-August weekend is about $426 to $549, according to Microsoft's Expedia Web site.

VISITORS CENTER: Visitors to the park can get the lay of the land through a 15-minute audiovisual presentation, pick up maps and field guides, talk to rangers and learn about special events and programs. The park remains open year-round, but the center is open only from May 1 to Oct. 31. Entrance fees on the Park Loop Road are $10 per vehicle for a seven-day pass. Phone: (207) 288-3338, or visit the Web site at www.nps.gov/acad.

LODGING: Bar Harbor and Mount Desert (pronounced Duh-ZURT') Island are chock full of inns, motels, campgrounds and bed-and-breakfasts to suit a broad range of tastes and budgets. Reservations for the two campgrounds within the park -- Blackwoods and Seawall -- fill up quickly, and availability is extremely limited this summer. Reservations are taken five months in advance. Rates are $18 per site, with walk-in tent sites at Seawall available for $12.

DINING: As with lodging, the area offers plenty of choices, ranging from elegant restaurants to sandwich shops and lobster shacks that serve Maine's signature seafood on paper plates.

Jordan Pond House offers a full menu of lunch and dinner items at a picturesque spot inside the park. It is best known for afternoon tea, served with popovers and strawberry jam, for $6. Reservations recommended during the height of the season. Phone: (207) 276-3316.

ATTRACTIONS: Wildwood Stables, a half-mile south of the Jordan Pond House, offers various one- and two-hour carriage rides, ranging in price from $13 to $16.50 for adults, less for children and seniors.

One popular ride is the daily sunset climb to the summit of Day Mountain, offering some of the most spectacular views of the mountains and the sea. Wheelchair-accessible carriages also are available. Phone: (207) 276-3622.

Mountain-bike rentals are available at several shops on Mount Desert Island. Bar Harbor Bicycle Shop charges $15 a day and $10 for a half-day. Phone: (207) 288-3886.

The Bar Harbor area also offers sailing, whale-watching cruises, kayaking, museums, shopping, swimming and other attractions. The Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce offers a free visitor guide. Phone: (207) 288-5103.