Rangers at Acadia park fight removal of stones as souvenirs

Posted July 10, 2009, at 7:05 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 12:04 p.m.

ACADIA NATIONAL PARK, Maine — The scenic views here can stretch on for miles, leaving people in awe as they gaze out from mountains or cliffs at coniferous trees, rugged granite outcroppings and ocean waves that reach all the way to the horizon.

For many park visitors, the ample supply and richness of Acadia’s natural resources can seem limitless, tempting some visitors to grasp onto a piece of their surroundings and not let go.

But according to park officials, no one seems to try to stick a pine tree or a gull into a pocket to take home as a souvenir. Rocks are a different matter — especially the large smooth kind that centuries ago were carried from Maine’s beaches for use as city cobblestones.

“To all of us, it seems like there are an unlimited number of rocks in the park,” David Manski, head of Acadia’s resource management division, said Friday. “[But] rocks are not a renewable resource.”

For that reason, it is illegal to remove rocks and other items from Acadia. Even the removal of small rocks one by one as individual hiking mementos can have a significant cumulative effect, park officials said. The displacement of rocks, such as by piling them up in cairns as social trail markers, is also discouraged because it disturbs the park’s natural setting.

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Stuart West, chief ranger for Acadia, said Friday that he has been at Acadia for only six years but in that time he has noticed a decline in the amount and variety of loose stones at the park’s busiest beaches. When he travels to some of the park’s more remote offshore islands, which people cannot reach by car, he can see the difference, he said.

“As tempting as collecting a rock may be, rangers look down on it because it is a park resource,” West said. “It seems like such a benign thing, but when you multiply it by hundreds or thousands of people, it really adds up.”

Sometimes, it is not so benign, according to West. Rangers have found people not just slipping a few relatively small rocks into their pocket, he said, but backing up their vehicles to the beach and loading them up as if they were at a construction site.

According to Manski, even employees at the airport in nearby Trenton have contacted park officials to tell them that rocks have been turning up in carry-on bags as passengers go through security screening.

“Whether [those rocks] come from Acadia or not, you can’t know,” Manski said.

West said the most frequent explanation used by egregious violators is that they were loading up with stones because they planned to use them for landscaping projects back home. Rangers each year charge about a dozen would-be thieves who end up facing fines of $50 to $150 apiece, he said. About twice that many get verbal warnings not to do it again.

Schoodic Point, Seawall and Little Hunter’s Beach are the places in Acadia that have been most affected by the depletion of rocks, according to West. It hasn’t come to the point that rangers are doing undercover stakeouts, he said, but they have been frequenting those sites to make sure rocks aren’t moved from where people find them.

“Those are the places we’ve been concentrating on,” West said.

Manski said that the problem has not become bad enough that it’s having an environmental effect, such as the loss of habitat or erosion. The main goal in the park’s efforts to stop people from taking rocks is to preserve the park’s natural state for the enjoyment of others, he said.

“You’re allowed to pick things up and experience them that way,” Manski said. “If you enjoy [the stones] so much, we want to make sure your kids and their kids can enjoy them, too. The national park belongs to everybody.”

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