Family-friendly Acadia Quest program celebrates 10 years

Dianne Lytle and her granddaughter Alexa at the summit of Gorham Mountain in Acadia National Park. For six years, the two have completed the Acadia Quest as an integral part of their treasured vacation together. PHOTO COURTESY DIANNE LYTLE

Dianne Lytle looks forward to spending time with her granddaughter Alexa each summer in Acadia National Park. For six years now, the pair has scrambled over boulders, conquered summits, explored the woods and have swum in the park’s ponds and lakes.

As soon as Alexa, now 11, arrives on Mount Desert Island from Greensboro, N.C., she and her grandmother plot out their four to six weeks together. Much of their time is spent outdoors tackling the Acadia Quest. In its 10th year, the program challenges park users of all ages and skill levels to “collect” experiences on Acadia’s hiking trails, carriage roads, water bodies and other destinations.

Friends of Acadia, the nonprofit that helps preserve and protect the national park, started the program a decade ago to encourage more children and families to explore the outdoors.

“It gives us a bit of direction, and it stretches the comfort zone a little bit sometimes,” said Dianne. The retired nurse and midwife, who lives year-round in Somesville, said Alexa has joined her in doing Acadia Quest since she was 5.

Every summer, Acadia Quest features new challenges, but Friends of Acadia produced the “Greatest Hits” edition this year to mark the program’s 10th anniversary.

“We took a lot of the favorites off of previous Acadia Quest cards and are repeating them,” said Friends of Acadia’s Conservation Director Stephanie Clement.

The “Greatest Hits” edition includes 10 challenges including hiking any Acadia trail with “South Ridge” in its name, swimming in one of the park’s swimmer-friendly ponds or lakes and boating on any of those water bodies or off Acadia’s shoreline.

“The nice thing about this edition of our Acadia Quest is that a lot of the things don’t tell you exactly where to go and what to do,” Clement continued. “It leaves it open for you to decide, so it adds kind of a trip planning element to the quest.”

Gorham Mountain affords a sweeping view including Champlain Mountain. Access to the trail is from Ocean Drive and a short walk from Thunder Hole.

From June through November, Acadia Quest participants must first form and register a team of at least one person under 18 and one person over 18. They can register online or obtain an Acadia Quest packet from one of the park’s three information centers and mail to Friends of Acadia. They also must already possess or purchase a park pass.

Teams then try to complete six of the 10 activities on the Quest card. If team members are only visiting Acadia for a brief time, they can do the “Speed Quest,” which entails completing just three activities.

As teams tackle their adventures, they must document their progress by taking photos, making a paper rubbing of a trail sign, geological survey medallion or a carriage road sign, holding onto ticket stubs or asking for the signature of an event leader.

Once finished, teams can send their quest card and documentation by mail or email to Friends of Acadia.

When Dianne and Alexa scope out Acadia Quest’s challenges each summer, they sometimes find activities they’ve already done. One year, the Beehive Trail, overlooking Sand Beach, was among the challenges. One of their favorite climbs, the pair still chose to hike the trail featuring a  small spring-fed pond called the Bowl.

One of Dianne and Alexa’s cherished outings is hiking the 1.4-mile Great Head Trail that affords sweeping views of granite cliffs and the North Atlantic. One time at the end, Dianne produced a thermos of hot tea, a tin of cookies and carefully wrapped tea cups and saucers. Alexa loved it so much she surprised her parents with the same tea party hike the following year.

Dianne and Alexa keep doing Acadia Quest because it’s different every year, and it leads them to fresh places.

“I have lived here year-round for a total of 10 or 12 years now and every summer in between,” the grandmother mused, “and there are still new things that I haven’t done in the park and on the island.”

Teams that complete the full Acadia Quest will receive a park pass for the following year. Those that finish the Speed Quest get an Acadia Quest patch.

The true reward, though, Clement said, is experiencing the park with friends and family.

This year’s Acadia Quest ends Nov. 15. For more info, call 288-3340 and visit friendsofacadia.org/events/acadia. Friends of Acadia is located at 43 Cottage St. in Bar Harbor.