Acadia for All: Shared Learning & Program Growth


The Acadia for All initiatives at Friends of Acadia wrapped up a dynamic year in December, marking milestones in our journey to welcome visitors of all backgrounds to Acadia National Park.

Friends of Acadia supported the park in hosting 10 Urban and Diverse Youth groups in 2023, up 400% from when the program launched in 2017 with two groups. This sends a strong message that new visitors are excited to explore the park when the space feels accepting, enabling communities to engage in fun recreation and meaningful experiences in Acadia.

The Outdoor Classroom Grants is another program equitably increasing stewardship values around the state. We issued a record 10 Outdoor Classroom Grants to Maine schools in 2023 to help build outdoor learning spaces on school campuses.

These grants get students outside and connecting to Acadia via lessons without the cost of transportation.

The Acadia for All Task Force, a group composed of Friends of Acadia staff, board members, and partners, was also busy in 2023, meeting six times to continue dialogue around diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) within the Acadia National Park community.

To bolster these dialogues, Task Force leaders embarked on a listening tour around the country to hear about DEIA initiatives at other national parks. Tour stops included Great Smoky Mountains National Park, as well as the local MDI Wheelers, who make Acadia’s carriage roads more accessible to people with mobility challenges.

In addition, several staff and board expanded their Tribal knowledge through the NPS Tribal Consultation Series and the First Light Learning Journey.

Last summer, the Acadia for All Task Force successfully conducted a consultant search to deepen our understanding and vision of DEIA at Friends of Acadia, hiring the OSIYO Group—an American Indian, women-owned professional services firm, which works with all levels of municipalities, Tribal governments, non-profits, businesses, and more. OSIYO means “hello” in Cherokee, and this group is as welcoming as they come.

Friends of Acadia hired the OSIYO Group because they truly understand the complexity of our many partnerships, and they use an appreciative-inquiry model to evaluate and then build upon our existing strengths. The OISYO Group began work in September with Phase 1: Assessment of where we are currently as an organization. Their findings will inform Phase 2: Creating an Action Plan to be completed later in 2024.

Finally, DEIA successes at Acadia were shared at the National Park Friends Alliance meeting last October in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, where Paige Steele presented on the growth of the Urban and Diverse Youth Grant Program during a plenary session with approximately 300 national park staff and partners. Acadia’s Chief of Resource Management Rebecca Cole-Will also presented her team’s phenomenal Tribal co-stewardship work during a plenary.

As Cassius Cash, superintendent of Great Smoky Mountains, said, “The work of welcoming visitors of diverse backgrounds to the most visited parks in the country starts with the leadership who support their staff in helping to make parks more welcoming to all.”

At Friends of Acadia, we have those leaders, and we look forward to what the DEIA journey brings in 2024, including supporting accessible trails and hiring a more inclusive workforce in Acadia.

PAIGE STEELE is Friends of Acadia’s Conservation Projects Manager.