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Climate change is causing damage to beloved features at national parks


America's national parks are grappling with the impacts of climate change and extreme weather this year - in Denali, a landslide, in Sequoia, forest fires. And in Maine's Acadia National Park, a flash flood has put a section of trail at risk of closing for good. Reporter Carly Peruccio has the story.

CARLY PERUCCIO, BYLINE: On June 9, Gary Stellpflug got an unusual radio call.

GARY STELLPFLUG: He said, hey, Gary, your bridge is washed downstream.

PERUCCIO: Stellpflug is Acadia National Park's trail foreman. He and his team maintain Acadia's hiking trails. So Stellpflug went to the site of the radio call.

STELLPFLUG: The Maple Springs Trail, sections of it were just gone.

PERUCCIO: That's where we're standing now.

STELLPFLUG: Totally disappeared.

PERUCCIO: The Maple Spring Trail runs next to a stream and a narrow gorge through forests that were Indigenous Wabanaki hunting and gathering areas. On one end of the storm-battered section is a gravel carriage road. On the other end is a thousand foot mountain. And in between them is unrecognizable.

STELLPFLUG: So that's quite a sizable chunk of granite that was knocked off its pedestal and landed on our bridge (laughter). And then there's, I don't know, a 60-foot ash tree in front of us. And its roots are just torn out from underneath it.

PERUCCIO: The problem was that a lot of rain fell in a really short time. Park headquarters registered about four inches of rain overnight. Almost one inch fell in just 15 minutes from 3 a.m. to 3:15. In a press release, Acadia called this one of the most extreme weather events in its history. The intense rain damaged some other hiking trails and carriage roads, but Maple Spring is the only one that's still closed to the public.

And Stellpflug knows this trail well. He got his first job in Acadia in the '70s. Over the years, he and his trail crew have repaired century-old stone steps and a wooden footbridge that park visitors have used to walk through this gorge along the stream. Beyond the obvious signs of storm damage, Stellpflug can see where boulders had been but are gone now. He notices where granite stones aren't hunter green anymore. They're pink because the rain scoured the moss away.

STELLPFLUG: It's a piece of, like, 45 years of my life is just gone.

PERUCCIO: The extent of the damage leaves Acadia with a difficult decision. Restoring the trail with brand new stepping stones and stone walls could cost over a million dollars, only for another extreme rainstorm to come along.

KEITH JOHNSTON: Our rain events are higher volumes of water and shorter periods of time. This is not a one-off anymore.

PERUCCIO: That's Keith Johnston, the head of Acadia's maintenance division.

JOHNSTON: Put it back and lose it again in a few years. That's hard to justify the expense.

PERUCCIO: Acadia has other options, like repairing some parts of the trail or even opening it up as is. They could move the trail out of the gorge onto a hillside where there's less risk of flooding. They're even considering closing it forever and deleting it from trail maps.

Acadia National Park isn't alone in having to make hard decisions and accept hard losses. Maple Spring is a half-mile trail in a park system of over 85 million acres.

STELLPFLUG: Now it's not the Library of Alexandria, but...

PERUCCIO: But even if his team rebuilds it, Gary Stellpflug says it won't be the same. For NPR News, I'm Carly Peruccio in Maine.


Carly Peruccio

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