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  • Mikah Meyer

Why You Can't Judge a National Park by its Name

Unit #48 / 413 - Acadia National Park

When you hear the title "National Monument," you probably think of a granite statue to some dead white guy.

So learning that the National Park Service currently has 84 National Monuments, you might be preparing to visit effigies of every middle school subject you ever studied.

But what if you stumbled upon these?

Would you think you made a wrong turn?

One of the peculiarities I'm learning about the National Park Service on this trip to all 400+ of their sites is that, like many things, it can often be politics above precision.

Take, for example, the above Buck Island Reef, Canyon De Chelly, and White Sands National Monuments. Doesn't look much like any dead white guy statues.

And at the same time, they share the same NPS title as George Washington Birthplace, Statue of Liberty, and Stonewall National Monuments below:

So what makes a National Monument?

Well, to be precise, a President.

While it takes an act of Congress to establish a National Park, a President, through the Antiquities Act of 1906, has the authority to proclaim National Monuments on lands already under federal jurisdiction.

As one can imagine, it's often easier to convince one politician (especially one who can't get reelected) than 538 all vying to stay in office.

This is one of the reasons why I'm going to all 400+ National Park Service sites.

So that, like the picture above, I won't miss out on interesting experiences just because a site wasn't lucky enough to pass Congress and become one of the more commonly known 59 National Parks.

And if you're looking for motivation to sleuth beyond those 59 popular sites, I offer Acadia National Park as a resounding example. It's the one I often enlist when people ask me why they should care about sites that aren't a capital N, capital P National Park.

Created in 1916 as Sieur de Monts National Monument, this island on the southeast coast of Maine became protected after campaigns by wealthy individuals such as George Dorr and then Harvard President Charles Eliot. Through their and others' work, President Woodrow Wilson signed the land into National Park Service management.

Three years later, in 1919, Sieur de Monts National Monument had its title changed to Lafayette National Park in honor of Marquis de Lafayette, a French supporter of the American Revolution.

A decade later, the name was changed to Acadia in honor of the French colony that once included parts of Maine, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Quebec.

[Read more about that French connection in my Saint Croix Island IHS blog French People Exist in the U.S. Because of this National Park]

Today, Acadia National Park encompasses over 47,000 acres and 125 miles of trails once used as playgrounds for wealthy families like the Rockefellers.

Those oceans, mountains, lakes, forests, and rocky shorelines create the oldest National Park east of the Mississippi and the only National Park in New England.

Get on the water with the Margaret Todd, the only 4 mast schooner active in New England. Downeast Windjammer even lets you bring 1 bottle of wine or beer per person.

So next time someone tells you a National Monument isn't worth it, remember that Acadia National Park--one of the Top 10 Most Visited National Parks--was once in the same class.

5 Acadia Highlights

1. Beech Mountain Trail

My favorite hike of Acadia took me on a leisurely 30-minute hike (each way) to the summit, where a fire tower aided in an even better view of the whole park from ocean to inland mountains.

This loop trail takes hikers along a ridge providing breathtaking views of Long Pond, whose name seems almost oxymoronic given that it's the largest inland body of water in the park.

2. Sand Beach

The only beach in Acadia not consisting of large rocks, Sand Beach lives up to its name by providing water access for those brave enough to dip into the cold waters of the northern Atlantic.

If visiting in the summer months, prepare for this sunny spot to be swarmed with people.

3. Great Head Trail

If you want to get up close and personal with some large rocks and ocean waves, this is the trail to do it. Starting with a stunning view of Sand Beach and The Beehive mountain climb, this moderate, 1.4 mile loop trail begins just across the beach from Sand Beach's parking lot.

4. Sunrise at Cadillac Mountain

Want to be the first person in the continental U.S. to see the sun rise? You can do it at the top of Cadillac Mountain. Even better, if you aren't wanting to hike the 1,530 feet in the dark, this summit has a large parking lot right at the top.

5. Romantic, Secluded Sunset at Pretty Marsh

Do not be fooled by Cadillac Mountain for sunset! At best, if you choose to be on Acadia's highest mountain for sunset, you should stop at the west-facing Blue Hill Overlook just before the summit. However, you and everyone and their dog (literally) will be vying for a handful of parking spots.

If you want a more secluded, romantic sunset with your sweetie, head to Pretty Marsh on the far western part of Acadia. Just a short walk down a hill from parking, there is a rocky beach with radiant colors descending over the water and one of Mount Desert Island's most exclusive zip codes.

The evening I was there was a Friday night during high tourist season, and even then there were only seven other people around at twilight, and all left well before the sun actually set. When it was fully dark, it was an easy 2-minute walk back to my van where there wasn't a single other visitor left.

Upcoming Units (COMMENT with recommendations. What should I do at each park? Local interesting detours? Food stops?)


-Lowell National Historical Park

-Minute Man National Historical Park

-Salem Maritime National Historic Site

-Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site

-Adams National Historical Park

-Boston African American National Historic Site

-Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area

-Boston National Historical Park

-Cape Cod National Seashore

-Frederick Law Olmstead National Historic Site

-John Fitzgerald Kennedy National Historic Site

-Longfellow House-Washington's Headquarters National Historic Site

-New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park

-Springfield Armory National Historic Site

The journey thus far:

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