May 22, 2018
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Park Service replaces stairs at Sand Beach in Acadia

By Brian Swartz, Of The Weekly Staff

Beach-lovers living in the lower Penobscot Valley know that this end of Maine, at least, lacks good beaches. That’s why when friends and family “from away” visit each summer, Sand Beach in Mount Desert Island seems a good place to catch the sun and surf.

And a construction project completed last spring in Acadia National Park has made access to Sand Beach much easier.

According to ANP engineer Clay Gilley, the disjointed granite steps that once led to Sand Beach “were probably built in the 1950s. They were uneven and tilted. It was a safety concern for us.”

On March 28, 2011, workers from Marshfield-based Hanscom Construction Inc. started working on a $212,000 project that involved “removing all of the granite steps, which really didn’t have much underneath them for support,” Gilley said.

Using an excavator, workers removed the granite steps one by one, placing each on the existing asphalt walkway. A Bobcat operator then moved the steps to the parking lot, which was still open to the public. A temporary boardwalk led past the shuttered bath house to wooden steps installed so that visitors could reach the beach.

Once the granite steps were removed, workers started building concrete forms for the new steps that replaced the existing steps. “We dug down quite deep to the clay layer and built concrete steps going all the way up,” Gilley said.

“We went that deep because the beach moves a lot. There are times when it’s pretty rocky. There are times when the sand is pretty high,” he explained. “We wanted to make sure when the stairs were done, movement on the beach wouldn’t affect them.

“The old steps opened onto rocks when the sand was low, like in winter and spring,” Gilley said. “Those rocks that were down there came from the original slope reinforcing done in the ’50s. That had fallen away, the big rocks.”

Work was progressing well until an April 2011 storm “came in and removed all the concrete forms and the signage before we got the chance to even pour the bottom step,” Gilley recalled. “I actually had to get a [John Deere] backhoe down on the beach to clean up the mess.”

Work quickly resumed on the concrete stairs. “The bottom one (step) weighs about 40,000 pounds,” he said. “These are solidly built; they won’t be moving.”

Hanscom Construction finished the project in May, and the National Park Service officially opened the new stairs to visitors that Memorial Day weekend. According to Gilley, visitors did not notice that as Sand Beach “built up” that summer, the bottom four or five steps were buried in sand, as designers had planned.

The new stairs feature “a retaining wall on the uphill side,” Gilley said. “All that nice pink retaining wall was all our old steps; we re-used it (granite steps) for that).”

Park officials have discussed installing a wheelchair ramp at Sand Beach, but no plans exist for doing so at this time. Gilley pointed out that Echo Lake Beach near Southwest Harbor “is fully accessible,” with a ramp leading to the beach and an on-site “beach wheelchair with large plastic tires so it can be rolled into the water.

“We redesigned the access to Echo Lake Beach to make it fully accessible to the handicapped,” he said.

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