Volunteers Hike With Soil During Save Our Summits Event

More than 70 volunteers hiked up Penobscot and Sargent Mountains to bring soil to the summits to help with Acadia’s vegetation restoration efforts.

Ethan Lewis, of Los Angeles, CA, who hiked with the Groundworks Bridgeport program, tosses a bag of soil into the pile atop Sargent Mountain during the Save our Summits hike. (Photo by Sam Mallon/Friends of Acadia)

Fifteen pounds doesn’t feel like much.

But when you’re halfway up a mountain trail in Acadia National Park with a 15-pound bag of soil in your backpack, it starts to feel heavier.

More than a few hikers experienced that lesson in relativity during Wednesday’s Save Our Summits event as they trekked to the summits of Penobscot and Sargent Mountains with bags of soil stowed in their backpacks.

While adding weight to your pack is a fine way to enhance the challenge of a hike, these hikers had higher purpose: vegetation restoration in Acadia.

The same soil those hikers brought up those summits will soon be spread out in plots and covered with a coconut fiber mesh, creating a welcoming place for seeds to land and sprout and grow.

The vegetation restoration work is an ongoing science-based collaboration between Acadia National Park, Schoodic Insitute, and Friends of Acadia. The project began several years ago on the summit of Cadillac Mountain, where years of wandering foot traffic and a changing climate have degraded vegetation. The low-lying shrubs, wildflowers, and berries that typically nestle in the shallow pockets of soil on Acadia’s granite summits have disappeared in some areas.

Acadia National Park and Schoodic Institute staff fill up bags of soil during the Soil on Summits hike. (Photo by Sam Mallon/Friends of Acadia)

Study plots were established on Cadillac, and staff and volunteers from the park and Schoodic Institute experimented with seeds, seedlings, and soil, gathering data to inform the most-effective approach to re-establishing healthy vegetation. That’s no easy feat on summits where the climate is harsh, and soil is sparse.

But researchers learned a good deal – and while experiments and monitoring continue on Cadillac, they’re expanding the work to two Penobscot and Sargent Mountains.

Alas, unlike Cadillac Mountain, those mountains don’t boast roads to their summits. Which brings us back to the 70-plus tenacious hikers who trekked up a mountain with a bag of soil in their pack (sometimes more than once!).

Getting all the necessary soil up to the summits will take time (staff and volunteers started this spring and will keep at it until enough is up there). But the Save Our Summit event accelerated the effort, putting a literal dent in the soil pile, and gave the public a chance to help out and be a part of the work.

Seventy-two volunteers turned out to carry soil, along with a dozen or so staff from Acadia National Park, Schoodic Insitute, and Friends of Acadia who hiked with soil, too.

Volunteers pack soil into their backpacks before beginning their hike up Sargent and Penobscot Mountains in Acadia National Park. Photo by Julia Walker Thomas/Friends of Acadia)

Volunteers chose which summit they’d prefer to hike to and how much soil they wanted to carry – generally 5, 10, 15, or 20 pounds. Some hiked up twice, and rumor has it that one person carried upwards of 130 pounds of soil over multiple trips during the morning.

There was plenty of support from beginning to end, too, Staff were on hand with snacks and sunscreen at the start and helped guide the way up both routes. And they were stationed at the summit drop-off piles to give each hiker a well-earned “congrats!” and “thank you!”

The Save our Summits event, hosted by Acadia National Park, Friends of Acadia and the Schoodic Institute, was a volunteer effort to hit soil up the the summits of aforementioned mountains, where revegetation projects will take place. (Photo by Sam Mallon/Friends of Acadia)

Some hikers might’ve momentarily questioned their decision to carry the amount of soil they chose, but they continued onward and upward to the summit, where they happily bid their soil adieu. There was also an option to drop bags of soil half-way up.

And while the true weight of that soil never changed, it did become more valuable the higher up it went. That soil is critical to the vegetation restoration work on Acadia’s summits, which is why volunteers who carried soil were dubbed “soil heroes.”

Maybe fifteen pounds doesn’t sound like much when you’re standing on a trail at the base of a mountain. But it sure adds up to a lot.

Volunteers hike bags of soil up and down Sargent South Ridge and Hadlock Brook Trails during the Soil on Summits hike. (Photo by Sam Mallon/Friends of Acadia)

Learn more:

Restoring Acadia’s Summits

Science at the Summit – via NPS

How to Save a Summit – via Schoodic Insitute

Additional Coverage:

Saving Maine’s iconic peaks, one pound of soil at a time – via Grist

Volunteers hike more than 1,540 pounds of soil to help restore Acadia’s remote summits – via News Center Maine

Volunteers hike to restore mountain summits at Acadia National Park – via Fox22 Bangor

Save Our Summits participants celebrate on the trail as they hike up to Penobscot and Sargent Mountains with bags of soil. (Photos by Shannon Bryan/Friends of Acadia)