Last June, Acadia national park opened an exhibit at its Nature Center to educate visitors on the implications that climate change will have on the park and its visitors.
Acadia is one of the most beautiful and heavily trafficked National Parks in the United States. It boasts an incredible variety of hiking trails and epic rocky coastlines interrupted only by stunning beaches and the occasional osprey. Every year, the park attracts over 2 million recreational visitors, most of whom opt to make the trek up to northern Maine during the summer months of June, July and August.
After being greeted by sunny, salty-breeze filled days on my first trip to Acadia last week, it is easy to see why it is such a popular summer destination. The park edges up to the beautiful coastal town of Bar Harbor, making it an ideal combination of breathtaking natural beauty and accessibility that families love. You can exhaust yourself hiking Cadillac mountain during the day and then scamper down the rocks to inhale a fresh, locally caught Thurston’s lobster in the evening.
While exploring Acadia’s new exhibit that details the consequences climate change poses to the park, visitors are reminded of what a privilege it is to experience such a pristine natural environment - something we often take for granted.
The exhibit explained how the fisheries around Bar Harbor and the park may shift due to ocean acidification. It did so not by using complicated charts or academic writing, but instead by demonstrating how the fish on the menus at the many seafood places that draw outdoorsy folks and foodies alike to the park, would change.
The visuals go on to outline the changes that would likely occur in the park's topography, including potential flooding of the region's marshes and shifts in plant species due to rising mean-annual temperatures in the region, sea level rise and the increase of coastal storms. The exhibit is an incredibly impressive set of communications on climate change. It used targeted, relatable, and clear messaging that grounded the potential impacts of climate change in a reality that anyone who enjoys visiting the park can understand.
Using National Parks as a mechanism to educate visitors on climate change is an effective way to reach people on a controversial issue that they may otherwise tune out. According to the National Park Service’s mission statement, places like Acadia were created to preserve “unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the National Park System for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.
The Park Service cooperates with partners to extend the benefits of natural and cultural resource conservation and outdoor recreation throughout this country and the world.” In this vein, it is important that as we visit these places and reap the restorative benefits of time atop mountains, marveling at jaw-dropping views we remember that the preservation “unimpaired” of these invaluable places is not guaranteed to those who follow us.
Climate change is an issue that has become deeply politically divisive. However, Acadia’s exhibit is encouraging because it demonstrated that climate change can be talked about and learned about in non-political ways, far away from Washington, D.C. The rest of the country should take notes and follow suit!