Winter’s Work

There’s Plenty of Work Happening During Acadia’s “Quiet Season.”


The Hulls Cove Visitor Center is sound asleep, and the upcoming season’s popovers are months away from rising at Jordan Pond House.

But despite the relative hush on the park’s trails and carriage roads, there’s plenty happening at the park in the winter. The “quiet season” is a time to get work done that’s challenging to accomplish in the busier months, like tree cutting and equipment repairs. It’s also when much of the recruitment and planning for the season ahead happens.

Plus, winter brings with it a host of its own needs: snow removal at park facilities, roads, and trailheads, and cleanup and repairs following winter storms (of which this winter’s had more than its fair share).

“A lot of people think, ‘it must be really easy for you in the wintertime, you don’t have anything to do,’” said Kathy Grant, visitor experience operations lead at Acadia National Park. “It’s still busy. It’s just a different busy.”

While the visitor center might not be swarming with enthusiastic park visitors, park guides are still dispensing guidance and answering questions that run the gamut. Only this time of year, they’re working out of the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce storefront in downtown Bar Harbor – space the chamber shares with the park in the winter season.

They help in-person visitors with tips for their winter visit, but the bulk of their visitor interactions are behind the scenes managing the park’s incoming information communications: answering phones and responding to mail and emails.

“People call all winter long to have us help plan their vacations for summer,” said Grant. “They ask questions about camping, park passes, and reservations.” When a big storm hits, like the two in early January, the curious and concerned reach out about that, too.

The park’s “snail mail” box is never empty, either.

“In the winter we get a lot of mail from schoolkids from all over the country working on projects with their class,” Grant said. And good ol’ Flat Stanley is still traveling the world – he visits the park often in winter – and it’s a park guide who’ll show him around and take his photo in a scenic place in the park.

Flat Stanley poses in front of a snowy Eagle Lake. (NPS photo)

Staff Recruitment and Hiring

Winter is also seasonal staff recruitment time at Acadia. The process of hiring this coming peak season’s contingent of park rangers, park guides, maintenance staff, and trails crew is in full swing by January.

As anyone who’s ever been a part of a hiring process can attest, “there’s a lot that goes into that process,” said Grant. As she hires park guides and rangers for the Visitor Experience and Education Division, she begins with a robust list of candidates who’ve applied via and already gone through the first round of vetting from the National Park Service. From those lists, which include hundreds of names, she’ll fill 12-20 positions, depending on that year’s budget.

Getting there involves a host of email exchanges, interviews, and reference checks. And seasonal staff being able to secure housing is also a big part of the equation.

Branching Out

Wintertime is when the park’s tree-cutting crew, led by a staff arborist, removes hazard trees and trims overhanging branches.

Up until several years ago, tree cutting was done in warmer months, said Heather Cooney, administrative support clerk in the park’s maintenance division. The work was moved to the winter to help protect the park’s bat populations. Between May and mid-October, bats roost during the day in rock crevices, buildings, and – you guessed it – trees, where they’ll tuck into small cavities or under loose bark. But they don’t hibernate in trees during the winter.

Removing dead or dying trees that might pose a risk to a park visitor – or the spread of an invasive pest – is part of the regular rhythm of park maintenance.

Another benefit to doing this work in the winter: the cutting crew is largely comprised of permanent employees with the right skills who work in other departments in the peak season, such as carriage roads and trails, and who’d normally be furloughed in the winter.

That’s true for the crew that plows snow from the park roads that remain open in the winter, as well as facility and housing parking lots. “They have the skills – they’re truck drivers and engineering equipment operators,” said Cooney. “They’re very valuable in the winter.”

Acadia National Park ranger
Alison Richardson clears trees and
brush near Loop A at Blackwoods
Campground. (Photo by Ashley L. Conti/Friends of Acadia)


Acadia’s buildings and utilities crew focuses on visitor-facing facilities in the summer months, but in the winter, they turn their attention to facilities like park

“It’s hard to get in there and do anything substantial when people are living there,” said Cooney. “Once our seasonal staff are out of the housing units, we can do more in-depth projects, like replace flooring or work on heating, lighting, electricity.”

While many of the park’s facilities were closed and winterized late last year, some buildings – like the Jordan Pond Gatehouse and Brown Mountain gatehouse – need to be heated all winter because of the historic nature of the buildings and materials.

Jordan Pond Gate House. (Photo by Julia Walker Thomas/Friends of Acadia)

And with so many historical structures and buildings within the park, extra care is taken whenever work is being done on those facilities.

“If we’re going to repair or replace anything, it must be done along strict rules,” said Cooney. “We work closely with the cultural resource program manager at Acadia.”

The list of projects is ongoing, and the wintertime allows for some of those projects to be tackled throughout the season. A couple of years ago, the crew restored a large window on the Islesford museum building. Another winter, they matched, ordered, and prepped clay tiles for the spring house at Sieur de Monts.

Among their many projects this year, the maintenance crew built new wooden picnic tables (the previous ones had metal frames, which filled with water and froze in the winter, damaging them).

“The park always has projects like that,” said Cooney. “We’ve always got roofs to replace, ditching that needs to be done. Cyclic stuff that we know needs to happen.”

Of course, when bad weather hits, all those project plans get put on hold.

“Everybody responds for a storm,” she said. “It’s all hands on deck.”

From Left: Darrell Hurd, Motor Vehicle Operator, Kyle Cipollone, Engineering Equipment Operator, Ron Hardison, Engineering EquipmentOperator, and Chris Cipollone, Engineering Equipment Operator Lead, build picnic tables. (Photo by Julia Walker Thomas/Friends of Acadia)

SHANNON BRYAN is Friends of Acadia’s Content and Website Manager.