Stone spans spotlight Acadia’s natural beauty
Cyclists whiz around corners and whip up and down gentle hills on Acadia National Park’s carriage roads. Surrounded on all sides by trees, mountains and lakes, the roads are famous for their sweeping views and easy-to-ride paths.
One of the most striking features of the 45-mile system might be under bicyclists’ tires, though: the bridges that arch over and under the well-traveled trails.
“As far as Maine is concerned, there’s nothing else like this system of roads and bridges,” Earle Shettleworth, director of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission, said.
Thirty-two individual bridges are scattered around the park, all built between 1917 and 1952. The roads southwest of Jordan Pond, starting around signpost 15, contain the oldest and most storied spans in the system.
Some are easy to miss with wheels spinning and wind whipping past bikers’ faces. Plus, the stonework blends into the landscape — each bridge was individually designed to fit its natural surroundings.
“In some cases, you have bridges where there’s this seamless transition between the natural environment and the man-made environment,” Shettleworth said.
The historian is particularly fond of the Stanley Brook Bridge, with its triple arch and stonework. A date is carved into a stone in a few of the historic structures. Some, like the Amphitheater Bridge, have viewing turrets to encourage explorers to hop off their bikes for a minute and check out the vista. Stairs near the Waterfall Bridge allow visitors to get closer to the stream cascading down the rocks.
On a Friday in July, the Jordan Pond Dam Bridge, close to the Jordan Pond House, is particularly busy.
Hikers and cyclists congregate on and around the bridge, just west of signpost 14. A quiet stream trickles under the stonework structure.
Visitors picnic on its ledges or prop their bikes against the walls while they take a quick jaunt to the edge of Jordan Pond.
This bridge was built earlier than most in 1920. John D. Rockefeller began constructing the bridges when he started work on his carriage roads in the early 1900s. The Cobblestone Bridge, finished in 1917, was the first completed.
Rockefeller began planning and building the 45-mile network of roads in the early 1900s. He hoped to create easy transportation within the park while discouraging the use of cars, which would clutter the pristine island with noisy engines and smoke.
The cars came anyway, but Rockefeller’s roads maintained serenity inside the park. Used expressly by cyclists, hikers and sometimes carriages or horseback riders, the roads are blocked from cars and buses by historic gates that once welcomed carriages to the area. The gates remain closed except to allow driving access to park personnel.
Although areas closer to the Jordan Pond House, the Bubbles and around Eagle Lake can get busy on weekends in the summer, once bikers and hikers get out of the main hubs of activity it’s easy to find a bit of quiet. Cyclists spread out and those on foot veer off the roads to explore the woods.
The understated bridges pop up every few miles along the crushed gravel paths.
“[The bridges are] a graceful ease from the approach in nature to what is man-made,” Shettleworth said.
Plenty of cyclists whip over and under the bridges without pausing a beat, but maybe that was Rockefeller’s whole plan — to build structures that don’t ask for attention but spotlight Acadia’s natural beauty.