Section Navigation

Superintendent’s View

Acadia National Park Superintendent Sheridan SteeleSuperintendent’s View: Fostering Stewardship and Promoting Science Literacy
By Sheridan Steele
Fall 2014 Friends of Acadia Journal

In my work as superintendent of Acadia National Park, one of my key goals is to engage youth of all ages in Acadia National Park and to inspire many of them to become park rangers or conservationists or just ordinary citizens who have positive memories about nature and national parks. One important way to engage today’s youth is through educational activities, internships, and special initiatives aimed at young people. Acadia, like all national parks, is an outdoor classroom for experiencing living things in their natural environments and reflecting on the human history that has shaped our landscape. Children of all ages discover the wonders of nature and complexities of science as they explore Acadia National Park.

In late August, we at Acadia had the pleasure of hosting Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and National Park Service Director, Jonathan B. Jarvis, in a visit that highlighted scientific research and youth partnerships at the park. Secretary Jewell has launched an ambitious youth initiative at the Department of the Interior to inspire millions of young people to play, learn, serve, and work in the great outdoors. Acadia National Park is playing an important role in providing educational, volunteer, and engagement opportunities to young people.

While at Acadia, Secretary Jewell spoke about her own lifelong relationship with nature and learning, saying, “These are the kinds of things we remember as children: We remember being out. We remember science because we saw it actually in action…. The best classroom is the one without walls.”

Acadia National Park is just that sort of classroom. Through ranger-led programs, kids and their families peer closely at the sand on Sand Beach or invertebrate insects in Cromwell Brook, discover geological history laid bare on Acadia’s mountaintops, and experience awe under Acadia’s remarkable night sky. They see peregrine falcon chicks in the nest with the help of spotting scopes connected to a digital screen, and our friendly raptor intern. Families who participate in Acadia Quest see more of the park and perhaps pay just a bit closer attention than they might have. Young volunteers, Acadia Youth Conservation Corps members, and Ridge Runners out on the trails and carriage roads of Acadia have a service-learning experience that combines a beautiful setting, age-appropriate physical effort, and a clear sense of accomplishment.

At the Schoodic Education District, you may see kindergarteners humming to periwinkles and excitedly exclaiming as snail antennas emerge from an opening shell; seventh-grade investigators determining wind speed, measuring seawater salinity, and counting organisms as they conduct a habitat survey and graph tide pool population changes by water depth; or high school students mapping the GPS coordinates of crab carcasses along the upper shoreline. The Schoodic Education Adventure (SEA) and other education programs focuses on building science literacy, introducing students to the scientific process, learning research methods, and sharing the inspiring interconnections of Acadia’s ecological and cultural components. At the same time, a constant goal for park ranger-educators is fostering a learning environment that allows students to explore nature and develop their own sense of wonder.

Each year the program hosts Maine students (including some who have never seen the ocean), and through the combined effort of partners Friends of Acadia and Schoodic Institute, we are able to provide a world-class educational experience with funding for transportation and other costs— without which many of these schools would not be able to participate. Similarly, the Teacher-Ranger-Teacher program sponsors summer residencies in Acadia for public school teachers every summer, then follows up by bringing their students to visit Acadia or another park during the school year (See Updates, page 21).

During her visit, Secretary Jewell remarked that “as human beings we need nature to be whole. We need nature to feed our souls.” The important work we are doing with our partners in Acadia, like Friends of Acadia and Schoodic Institute, increases our capacity every day to accomplish the mission of the National Park Service to both preserve and provide for public enjoyment of our park’s resources so that we and future generations will have access to the natural world Jewell evoked so eloquently.

We know that engaging the next generation is key to park stewardship, and that continuing our efforts in science is what will help us—and tomorrow’s stewards— to make informed decisions about how to manage Acadia National Park. These interconnected goals are critical to our success as we move into the next hundred years of managing our national parks.