BAR HARBOR ME Aug 8 2017 — On any summer day, the Acadia National Park carriage roads are traveled by about 2,000 visitors.
How many of them get lost or turned around is anyone’s guess. But there would surely be far more if not for the bike patrol volunteers working in the park.
Last weekend, bike patrol volunteers Charlie and Marsha Lyons made their way on mountain bikes around Eagle Lake toward Bubble Pond. The trip normally would take a half hour, but this one took close to two hours because they kept stopping to help tourists who looked lost or confused in the busiest part of the 57-mile carriage road system.
The carriage roads have several points of entry, but visitors often leave from Eagle Lake because it’s close to Bar Harbor and is flat. Marsha Lyons likes to come here and start her bike patrol duties in the parking lot. No sooner had she and her husband arrived last Sunday when she saw a woman preparing for a mountain bike ride.
Marsha Skoff of Sunbury, Pennsylvania, was visiting Acadia by herself for the first time. So Lyons introduced herself and asked if she could help. Clearly from Skoff’s athletic attire and physique, she was ready for a 10- to 20-mile bike ride and game for any climb.
Lyons did not disappoint.
“You won’t get a better view of Jordan Pond than if you go up these hills here,” Lyons said, pointing to her laminated map. “And you’ll see many of the Rockefeller bridges there. They were built in the 1920s and the early 1930s. The only way you’ll see those bridges is if you bike or hike to them.”
Skoff listened for 10 minutes. In the end there was no doubt about her route.
“I’ve never been here,” Skoff said. “I’ll listen to the experts.”
The volunteer bike patrol started 25 years ago at a grassroots level but petered out. Then in 2014 the park put out word that it wanted to start it again. Park rangers heard from 16 local cyclists willing to help and the number has held strong, according to Acadia Ranger Josh Bennoch, who organizes the volunteer team.
Some riders devote a dozen hours a week, others fit in just a few hours. Bennoch said the volunteer team logged nearly 400 hours in the first 10 weeks of the 2017 summer season, averaging several hours a day.
“People see a lot of issues on the carriage roads,” Bennoch said. “The volunteers help prevent issues before they become problems. Like people riding too fast or leaving bikes in the middle of the carriage roads.”
Acadia is one of the most visited of the 59 national parks, consistently outdrawing famous destinations such as Alaska’s Denali National Park and the Florida Everglades. Last year, 3.3 million visited Acadia during its centennial, the highest annual total since a standard counting methodology was established in 1990.
Mountain biker Dan Maurio of Belfast puts in eight to nine hours a week on the volunteer patrol. A full-time medical technologist, Maurio also works part time in the fall as a bike tour guide for Acadia Bike Shop. He learned German this winter so he could talk with German riders he leads on tours. Knowing the second language has helped him on the bike patrol. He sewed a German flag on his handlebar pouch to let riders know: “Ich spreche Deutsch.”
“It’s the most common second language spoken by Europeans,” Maurio said.
Marsha and Charlie Lyons moved from Saratoga Springs, New York, in 2005 to retire in the village of Somesville on Mount Desert Island. As former high school teachers, they’re used to helping people and giving directions. They do it a lot now on the carriage roads. Last year Marsha logged 200 hours on the patrol.
Both have mountain bikes outfitted with packs full of gear to help on the patrol. And their royal blue bike shirts, with the small yellow Acadia Park patch, alert tourists of their mission.
Maintaining decorum on the carriage roads is not always easy. As a youth sped past too fast to stop quickly, Charlie Lyons just shrugged.
“What am I going to do now?” he said. “I can’t catch him.”
And yet almost every time the Lyonses stopped to offer directions, another tourist approached to ask for help.
“Ninety percent of the job is matching a person to the ride,” Charlie Lyons said.
On the other side of Eagle Lake, Marsha Lyons stopped when she saw a family of four looking confused.
“Bike patrol gal to the rescue,” she said as she got off her mountain bike.
The two adult riders said another volunteer had given them directions, but just then Lyons heard a woman standing next to her say she was heading toward a closed road. Lyons saved Pat O’Brien and her group of five from having to backtrack by telling them about a detour.
“I’m relieved we avoided that,” said Pat O’Brien of Amherst, New Hampshire. “And we’ve been coming here every summer for years.”
Portland Press Herald