Carriage Roads – Part II
As discussed in Part I of the Carriage Roads, John D. Rockefeller Jr. was the catalyst that made the creation of these roads a reality. His goal was to create a system of roads throughout Acadia National Park that were to be used exclusively by hikers, bikers, horseback riders and horse-drawn carriage (although these days that is limited to tours up Day Mountain), but under NO circumstances automobiles.
Rockefeller built the roads with the help of several engineers, a “road superintendent”, a (female) landscaper, and numerous contractors who employed their own crews. Every aspect of the roads were engineered carefully to allow for smooth driving and easy riding.
Most of the roads are 16 feet wide, which in the era they were built allowed two carriages to pass one another going in opposite directions. There are some exceptions to this where the landscape allowed for only 12 foot ride sections. Typically these areas were termed “bridle paths”, or “connectors” – shorter sections of roads that would connect one carriage road to another. At these junctions, “islands” were created so it did not seem like a typical motorway crossroads. Rustic signposts indicated the direction of towns or geographical features (although I must say that some of these are rather confusing, so a map is almost a must for traversing the roads). Other posts indicate that a road goes “around mountain”, which from hiking them I have learned sometimes means UP the mountain!
Cutting the road line through the woods was the most sensitive part of the process. Two considerations were paramount: That the line of the road was going the “right” way and that the surrounding environment was disturbed as little as possible. Proper drainage was important (due to the amount of rain and snow the island receives each year), and drainage culverts were placed every hundred yards, built directly into the roadbed. With the many runoff streams that tumble down the mountain sides, special consideration had to be given to channelling these streams under the roads.
Where the mountains sloped steeply, retaining walls were built. Finally, coping stones were set along the edges of the roads. These stones were the last items to be placed as the roads neared completion. Many of these stones were stones that were unable to be used in the construction of the carriage road bridges, but were large enough to be used as coping stones. I can attest that they make great perching spots, places to take a rest, get a drink of water, or from which to enjoy a vista.
Once a road was completed, great pains were taken to restore the surrounding landscape using native and naturalized plant materials. Plantings were arranged in irregular patterns to resemble how plants would grow in the wild. Plantings were used to screen the carriage roads from motor roads, to separate visually one carriage road from another, to frame views and to allow the roads to blend back into the landscape. I for one was most intrigued by this aspect of the road design, because hiking these roads today 90 – 100+ years since their construction, this thought does not even cross your mind – so much of the landscape these roads seem to be. And YET when one observes the vistas along the way you realize they are open BECAUSE of how plantings were done and (thankfully) maintained today.
More than sixty varieties of trees, shrubs, and perennials were selected, most native to the island. Even blueberry and blackberry bushes were included, providing “snacks” along the way. They are still there, though a little more difficult to find after 100 years!
These roads provide a comfortable way to enjoy the park for those that don’t have the time, inclination, or physical ability to “climb” Acadia’s other trails; the majority of which involve considerable uphill and downhill boulder scrambling.
To date I’ve hiked approximately half of the 57 miles of carriage roads, and am most anxious to hike the other half!