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Student view: Studying in Acadia National Park

June 6, 2023 - Claire Smith

Claire Smith is a second-year student majoring in social relations and policy and minoring in women and gender studies, educational studies, and Portuguese. She has been involved in Madison through her positions as a student senator and an ambassador. She also works for JMC's Marketing and Communications Department where she manages and creates content for JMC channels.

  Claire Smith standing on top of rocky mountain overlooking water

One of the first things I noticed – and grew to love – about Madison students is the diversity of academic interests. Madison students have so many different policy interests and Madison Alumni are spread across a variety of fields.

Initially, I didn’t realize just how many directions I could pursue with my Madison degree, but since discovering this, I have made it my goal to explore as many potential policy interests as possible. This goal has inspired me to take on minors such as educational studies, and women and gender studies. And, most recently, I decided to take advantage of a JMC Study Away course in Acadia National Park, which provided me with new opportunities to learn more about the environment and climate change.

As someone who has only been to one national park and has never been camping, I was a bit nervous when I saw our itinerary that included hiking daily. Although, our hikes and other activities proved manageable and worth it. The views were incredible. As a photographer, I took thousands of pictures and got some of the best shots in my portfolio during my favorite parts of the trip. 

Shot #1: The Bubbles

Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park's Jordan Pond Loop. Photo by Claire Smith.

The bubbles” was our first hike, with an unforgettable view. To get to the top of this summit, we hiked the beautiful Jordan Pond Loop, and then we began our steep, rocky ascent to the top of the South Bubble. It was a 1.5 mile uphill hike to the top, where we were able to admire the beautiful view pictured above and take photos with bubble rock.

Shot #2: Evening Sunsets

The group of ten students that attended the Acadia National Park trip became close very quickly. We explored the Schoodic campus outside of our required class activities daily. Every night, we walked to the Schoodic shore to watch the vibrant sunsets (this photo isn’t edited!). 

Capturing a sunset at Acadia National Park. Photo by Claire Smith.

We played music, talked and spent time taking in the view. The sunsets allowed us to bond outside of class which made the trip even better!

Shot #3: Puffin Tour

Puffin in flight over water
An Atlantic Puffin in flight over Pigeon Hill Bay. Photo by Claire Smith.

The Puffin Tour was by far one of the coolest parts of our trip. Maine is the only place in the United States where the Atlantic Puffin can be seen, and we were able to go on the Acadia Puffin Cruise to see these fascinating sea birds up close! We boarded a boat at Pigeon Hill Bay and traveled to Petit Manan Island, which is one of the five puffin colonies in Maine. We stayed there for a half  hour to observe and take pictures of the puffins, while learning interesting facts about them, like the fact that they mate for life.

My favorite part of the trip: The Beehive

Back of person seated looking out over mountain at water
Claire Smith admires the view after a challenging hike in Acadia National Park. 

On the last day, we took our final hike, which was Acadia’s Beehive, an infamously challenging trail that has several iron rungs for hikers to climb. Our professor had warned us about this hike early in the week and let us know that we would have the option to take the difficult route, which was up the side of the mountain with the iron rungs and a two-foot-wide trail with no rails, or the easier route, which was much less steep, standard hiking, to get to the top of the Beehive.

Since I wasn’t an avid hiker, I had planned on taking the easier route from the beginning of the week. I felt even more secure in my decision when a park law enforcement officer told us a man had stumbled off the Beehive hike and fell 350 feet to his death, but as the days passed and we went on several enjoyable and beautiful hikes, I began thinking I might be ready to take on a more challenging hike.

By Friday, I had mustered the courage to do it. This hike ended up being my favorite part of the trip! It was a super fun, short climb to the top, where we admired the beautiful view of Sand Beach, one of Maine’s few sandy beaches. Unfortunately, I was too nervous to get photos  during the hike, but the photo above shows me admiring the view at the top. I am proud that I conquered a fear and made the view that much sweeter.

Even though I don’t plan to pursue environmental policy as a career, there is so much I am taking away from the experience this class offered. For one, I learned a lot about coastal Maine and our National Park system. I was also able to see firsthand how climate change has impacted invasive species in the area.

I left Maine as a more environmentally conscious individual with a new appreciation for nature. This trip has inspired me to try to visit more national parks and explore more of the beauty in my home state. The week after I returned from Maine, I went camping for the first time in Oscoda, MI. I love capturing beautiful photos as I reap the benefits of ecotherapy.