ACADIA NATIONAL PARK, Maine — Kevin Schneider is not easing into his new job as superintendent of the only national park in Maine.
It’s more like he has hit the ground running since assuming his new duties Jan. 25.
Winter may typically be the quiet season in Acadia National Park, when most of the main roads are closed and visitation slows to a trickle compared to the busy summer months, but this year is a little bit different.
To start, 2016 is the 100th anniversary of the founding of the park, which first received formal federal protection in 1916, when President Woodrow Wilson designated land near the village of Bar Harbor as Sieur de Monts National Monument. The park and the National Park Service, which also was created that same year, are planning to hold special events and expect to be busy as they and national park supporters commemorate the centennial of their founding.
Schneider also has had to step immediately into a brouhaha surrounding the transfer of 1,441 acres of land on the Schoodic Peninsula to the park. The transfer of land to the park has received broad support, but members of the park’s advisory commission and others have expressed displeasure with the manner in which it was transferred — without the commission’s input or direct approval by Congress — which seems to contradict the intent of a 1986 federal law enacted to restrict the park’s ability to expand. The park service cited a more obscure federal law dating to 1929 in accepting title to the property.
Schneider and other park officials got a polite but firm earful about the controversy when the commission met on Feb. 1. Schneider promised that the park would not go around the intent of the 1986 law again while he is superintendent, and he assured them he is getting up to speed on that and other pressing park issues as fast as he can.
“I’ve been here for all of a week,” he told the commission. “I’m drinking from the proverbial fire hose.”
Schneider, who up until last year worked as deputy superintendent of Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, acknowledged during a recent interview in his new office that he has a lot on his plate.
In addition to celebrating its 100th anniversary, the park is trying to manage traffic congestion and to come up with a park-wide traffic management plan; is considering options for building a new headquarters and visitors center; and is attempting to balance the increasingly varied activities in the park and the effect social media is having on park use.
First on Schneider’s list, however, has been meeting with local officials and groups such as Friends of Acadia, Maine Coast Heritage Trust, the Schoodic Institute and the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce, all of which have very close relationships with the park.
“My goal — as much as I can before the crush of the summer season starts — is to try to learn as much as I can about the place, about the communities, about our staff, about our partners and really take advantage of the next three or four months to [maintain] a very fast pace of learning,” Schneider said. “You really need to see a park unit like this over the course of a full year before you can fully appreciate it or understand it.”
Schneider may be new to his job, but he is not new to Acadia. A native of suburban Chicago and 1998 graduate of Colorado State University, he visited Acadia one summer while in college, when he and some friends made a swing through Acadia on the way to go backpacking at Baxter State Park.
In the summer of 1999, as a National Park Service public affairs employee, Schneider returned to Acadia twice, once to assist in the launch of the Island Explorer bus system and again to help with the announcement of the Acadia Trails Forever endowment. At the time, Paul Haertel was Acadia’s superintendent.
“That’s when I thought, ‘You know, this would be a great place to work,’” Schneider said. “Acadia has kind of been on my list of places to work really since those two trips in the summer of 1999.”
But by far, Schneider’s strongest connection to Maine is through his wife, Cate Schneider, who grew up in Bangor and graduated from the University of Maine. Her maiden name is Splane, and she is the daughter of George and Sue Splane, Schneider said.
They visited her family last July with their two young children and spent a few nights at Blackwoods Campground in Acadia during their trip, not long before they found out Sheridan Steele, Acadia’s prior superintendent, planned to retire.
He and Cate had a brief conversation, he said, and quickly decided he should apply for the job.
“It was like, ‘Yeah, absolutely,” Schneider said. “What a great opportunity for our family, to kind of come home in many ways for her, and come full circle. To be working at a place that’s just 50 miles down the road from where she grew up is really exciting.”
As he and his family settle in, Schneider said, he hopes to get out into the surrounding communities over the coming weeks and months to “listen and learn” as much as he can. The towns on Mount Desert Island, the Schoodic Peninsula and Isle au Haut are “inextricably linked” with the park, he said, and are vital partners to the park’s future.
Schneider said he has a collaborative management style and that continued mutual collaboration among the park, neighboring towns and the park’s nonprofit partners will not only make his job easier, but will be to everyone’s benefit.
“I’m very fortunate to be coming in at this time,” Schneider said, adding that Acadia’s 100th birthday this year is as much a celebration of the local communities as it is of the park.
“We’re going to have a busy summer,” he continued. “It’s an opportunity for all of us to think about what the future of Acadia National Park should be and [to] really renew our commitment to these places and how we want to be stakeholders and stewards for them for the next 100 years.”