Abuzz with millions of visitors a year, Acadia National Park is a recreationsist’s paradise, with miles of historic carriage roads and trails, mountains of pink granite, crystal-clear ponds and rocky shores. In general, this park is known as a safe place. But every once in a while, someone visits and doesn’t make it out of Acadia alive.
In the new book, “Death in Acadia: And Other Misadventures in Maine’s National Park,” author Randi Minetor rehashes many of these fatalities in detail. In this Q&A, she shares some of her thoughts about the book and offers some insight into what it’s like to write about death in some of the most popular outdoor destinations in the country.
Aislinn Sarnacki: Of the 76 deaths you counted as occurring in Acadia since the park’s formation in the early 1900s, are there any deaths that struck you as particularly surprising or interesting?
Randi Minetor: I found two of them particularly alarming, and for the same reason: Two people who determined that the Precipice or Beehive trails were not challenging enough, and decided to leave the trails and free-climb (that is, climb using fingers and toes, with no equipment or rope or even the right shoes). Neither of these people had any free-climbing experience, and they both lost their hold on the near-vertical rock faces and died.
Now that I’ve written six of these books (“Death in Rocky Mountain National Park” will be out next spring), I’ve noted that just about every park with cliffs has seen at least one spouse push the other spouse off an edge to his or her death. In all of these cases, the murderous spouse hoped to collect on a big life insurance policy purchased very recently. Word to the wise: The rangers, the police and the insurance companies were not fooled.
Sarnacki: In addition to “Death in Acadia,” you’ve written about death on Mount Washington, on Katahdin, in Glacier National Park and in Zion National Park. What initially led you to write about these outdoor places from this perspective, and why do you continue to do so? What makes this approach worthwhile to you as a writer?
Minetor: I took an assignment from Lyons Press back in 2015 to write about deaths in Glacier National Park, when the publisher expanded this series in preparation for the National Park Service centennial in 2016. We hoped the book would be popular, and it has become one of my bestsellers. It’s great to have the readership, but I’ve continued to pursue this topic because I believe that when people read about the mistakes others have made that cost them their lives, it makes folks a little more cautious and more aware of their own surroundings when they visit the parks. If I can save a life or two with this information, that makes the effort very worthwhile.
The other reason I write these books is that these stories are fascinating. It’s a treasure hunt for information about who they were and how they found themselves in such precarious circumstances. I’ve found all kinds of interesting backstories, including commentary by Eleanor Roosevelt on one death in Glacier, a hurricane off the Maine coast that resulted in one man drowning in a Mount Washington creek, and poetry written by a relative of the first person to die in Acadia. I’m a research junkie, so these books are endlessly rewarding.
Sarnacki: What are some of the challenges you face when writing about these types of tragedies? And how do you overcome these challenges?
Minetor: These are books about people who went to a national or state park intending to have the time of their lives, and came home dead. That fact in itself is hard to take, but the worst stories are the ones about children. I can’t imagine how parents go on with their lives after losing a child, especially when it’s the result of a split-second’s inattention. In a lot of these cases, I just have to get up from the keyboard and go do something else for a while.
Sarnacki: While this book is certainly about death, it’s also about the park in general, its history and beauty. I learned so much about Acadia through your writing. Is there anything about the park that you learned during your extensive research that you found particularly interesting? That made you look at Acadia differently as a visitor?
Minetor: I knew a little about the 1947 fire, but not about how it had transformed the park itself. I’m returning to Acadia for a book signing at the Jesup Library in Bar Harbor on Sept.19, so I’m looking forward to seeing the fall color in the younger forests that have grown since the fire.
If you have your own questions for Minetor, you can meet her at her book signing from 7 to 8 p.m. on Sept. 19 at the Jesup Library in Bar Harbor.
Readers can follow the travels of Randi Minetor and her husband, Nic Minetor, on facebook.com/minetorbooks/. The couple teamed up to write “Birding New England,” also released this year. Both books are available at local bookstores and online.