Acadia National Park’s Carriage Roads
How did it happen that Acadia’s famous carriage road system was built? Once upon a time Mount Desert Island was off limits to automobiles. When they finally did arrive, a very wealthy philanthropist decided to do something about it. He built a system of roads which continue to this day to be automobile-free.
Upon his death John D. Rockefeller Jr.’s family donated the system of carriage roads to the nation. They were mostly hand built between 1913 and 1940 and stretch 45 miles throughout Acadia National Park.
What makes the carriage roads unique? Unlike hiking trails, the carriage road system evokes a bygone era when wide country roads were maintained and used for real transportation, just without the internal combustion engine. The stonework is impressive and the crushed stone surfaces and signage well cared for. Of course the surroundings are spectacular and the planning and execution far exceed what we would expect to find on any ordinary rural roadway. Rockefeller’s active participation in the project resulted in features such as stone culverts and coping stones, landscaping with native plants and gentle grading to accommodate horse-drawn carriages.
In addition to the roads, two gate lodges were built; one at Jordan Pond and another near Northeast Harbor and serve as impressive entries to the system. There are a total of 17 stone faced bridges. Steel reinforced concrete is the primary building material, with carefully fitted native stones forming the outer layer. Between 1992 and 1995 the carriage road system was extensively rehabilitated and the ongoing maintenance requires hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.
How can we use the roads? Certainly not with our cars, motorcycles, ATVs or snowmobiles. Horse back riding, bicycling, walking and skiing are all permitted but Rover must be on a six foot leash. Your first encounter in my opinion should be to walk or bike around Eagle Lake. It’s easy to find, just take Mt. Desert St. (Rt 233) out of Bar Harbor and stop at the first parking lot belonging to Acadia National Park. On the way you can see your first example of fancy stonework where the Park Loop Road passes over Rt 233. Don’t forget to check the Island Explorer’s bus schedule for a free ride.