Since 2012, Worcester Polytechnic Institute has collaborated with the Acadia National Park in research and creative activities intended to offer insight into the preservation, improvement, appreciation, and sustainability of the natural environment. This work is undertaken as one of WPI’s most distinguished academic requirements called the Interactive Qualifying Project (IQP). Unique in higher education, the IQP challenges students to address a problem that lies at the intersection of science, technology, and society. WPI sends approximately 20 students to the park each summer for seven weeks.
Worcester Polytechnic Institute has collaborated with Acadia National Park on a variety of projects and will continue to develop new and innovation projects in the future. This collaborative works includes:
In 2015 the Trail View team continued the research started in 2012 of creating detailed 360-degree interactive trail views of the 125 miles of hiking trails in Acadia National Park. WPI’s interest in the Trail View project relates strongly to concerns about the consequences of environmental sustainability, pollution, impact on biological diversity, climate change, and sustainability issues. In addition, the educational and informational benefits of making the trails visually accessible to a wide population of outdoor enthusiasts is invaluable. Along with the interactive 360-degree panoramic trail view, the WPI team intends to utilize various forms of emerging media to present a vast amount of data with the Trail View such as atmospherics (temperature, wind speed, humidity, conditions) photographs, audio, elevation, and observational data on plant, animal life, and trail conditions.
In preparation for the Acadia Centennial in 2016, the Trail View team concentrated on the hiking trails in the area of Northeast Harbor. That location is significant because the origins of conservation on Mount Desert Island can be traced to that area. It was a clear, cold night in March 1880, when Harvard student Charles Eliot gathered six of his friends together in 34 Grays Hall in Cambridge to discuss a camping expedition to Maine. Over the course of the summer, and for the next decade, members of the Champlain Society conducted the first natural history surveys of the island. They also influenced the eventual purchase and protection of land that would become Acadia National Park.
Among the many aspects of natural beauty in Acadia National Park is the view of the starry night sky. The natural night sky is an integral part of the park, an element of cultural heritage, and a source of inspiration for visitors. National Park Service (NPS) Management Policies 2006 states that the NPS will “preserve, to the greatest extent possible, the natural lightscapes of parks, which are natural resources and values that exist in the absence of human-caused light.” In addition, “To prevent the loss of dark conditions and of natural night skies, the Service will minimize light that emanates from park facilities, and also seek the cooperation of park visitors, neighbors, and local government agencies to prevent or minimize the intrusion of artificial light into the night scene of the ecosystems of parks.” The goal of the Dark Sky Project is to improve and protect the quality of the night sky in Acadia National Park and surrounding communities.
The 2015 Dark Sky Team continued the 2009, 2013, and 2014 study by targeting designated areas throughout Acadia National Park to measure and analyze various levels of light pollution. In addition, the Team continued measuring the sky quality of the Schoodic Peninsula. The sky of Acadia is nationally significant and provides millions of visitors amazing views of the stars of the Milky Way, a sight unavailable to two-thirds of all Americans.
The Dark Sky Team will be seeking the cooperation of local governments, residents, businesses, schools, and others to prevent or minimize light pollution. In the long-term, the team’s goals are to establish a stewardship program and ethic for protecting the night sky, and implement a monitoring program to detect future changes. The team will take action to promote night sky stewardship inside and outside of the park by engaging in outreach with the towns on Mount Desert Island. The only way that Acadia National Park can improve and protect the dark night sky is to work cooperatively with its neighbors.
The Sound Archive Team will continue the systematic collection and archiving of audio sound recordings of Acadia National Park, and to make these recordings accessible, through an archive, to educators, scientists, researchers, scholars, and artists. The project team will continue collecting audio sound recordings of various environments and points of interest in the park. In addition, the project team will use the recordings to develop sound installations for the Acadia National Park Visitor’s Center. Through the proof-of-concept installations at the Visitor’s Center, the team will explore and validate various technical and creative strategies appropriate for developing future exhibition installations at the Acadia National Park Nature Center. Of particular interest to the project is the deployment and playback of sound through extensive multichannel sound systems.
WPI’s commitment to the audio preservation and documentation of the environmental soundscape has been ongoing. Over the past fifteen years, this sonic documentation has included numerous soundscapes such as Venice, Boston, Santa Fe, etc.
The Cromwell Brook Watershed team is working with Acadia National Park to help preserve the Cromwell Watershed. The watershed is ecologically important—it hosts fish runs, a large wetland, old forest stands, and important wildlife populations including bat populations that are quickly declining from disease and other threats. The Cromwell Watershed team will contribute to the preservation effort by initiating an elaborate photographic and sonic documentation of the area. This documentation will include traditional high-resolution photography and sonic archiving in addition to both underwater photography and underwater sound recording. This approach is the beginning of an ongoing ‘repeat photography and repeat sonic archiving’ which will assist in the preservation process by enabling a mechanism for monitoring and assessing the watershed over time. Repeat photography has been established as a useful tool in detecting and documenting vegetation changes. The WPI team is excited about working with the Acadia National Park to improve and maintain the resilience of the natural and cultural resources in Acadia, and in preserving them for this and future generations.
The National Parks have more than 50 Artist Residency programs across the United States. The mission of the parks is to offer programs that… “provide artists with unique opportunities to create works of art in varied natural and cultural settings.” In most cases, these programs lean towards more traditional forms of art such as painting, sculpture, drawings, writing, instrumental music composition, etc… However, the direction of art has been significantly altered over the past forty years with the emergence of new art forms including environmental art. This artistic movement has been characterized by artists who incorporate environmental processes, methods, and scientific data as the motivation and structure of their work. In short, these artists work directly in and with the environment.
The Colony would be a place where environmental artists live, work, and interact with the scientific community, the public, and one another. Specifically, the project team is investigating a variety of logistical and organizational issues such as housing, advertising, financing, work-space, artist selection process, public outreach programs, science and art collaboration potential, educational programs, transportation between SERC and MDI, etc. It is the intent of the project to propose an Environmental Art Colony that presents an innovative model and contemporary approach to the traditional ‘Artist Residency’ programs of the National Parks.
Today it is important for people to become familiar with the idea of an Ecological or Carbon Footprint. This is a method used by businesses, governments as well as educational institutions to measure the biological sustainability of the earth based on the activities of people and their growing populations. In 2016, the WPI Carbon Footprint team will begin an in-depth analysis of Acadia National Park’s greenhouse gas emissions. The WPI team will also develop a strategy to reduce the carbon footprint by incorporating innovative technological developments, better process and product management, carbon capture, consumption strategies, carbon offsetting, behavioral changes, and others.
The growth in tourist numbers is putting significant pressure on the Acadia National Park. Care is required in planning for tourism and recreation to minimize environmental impacts, provide desired experiences for visitors, achieve sustainable use and to secure economic benefits for protected areas and the surrounding community.
In general, the impacts of tourism vary according to the number and nature of tourists and the characteristics of the park. The WPI Tourist Impact Team is involved in the data collection and analysis of tourist movement and behavior throughout Acadia National Park. Although tourism can be a lucrative source of revenue for the park, it can also represent a major management problem. As with most problems, the negative impacts of tourism can only be managed effectively if they have been identified, measured and evaluated.
The WPI Soundscape Analysis Team began research in Acadia National Park in 2012. The intent of the research was to establish the baseline ambient sound levels in the park. The work of the WPI Team utilized past research conducted in 2007 and 2009 by the acoustics staff from the Volpe Center (part of the U.S. Department of Transportation). Over the years, the WPI Soundscape Teams have monitored the ambient noise levels at over twenty-five locations in the park. As a result, the WPI soundscape analysis suggests that there has been a consistent increase in the background noise levels at various locations in the park.
Therefore, there is some urgency to not only develop strategies to abate ‘noise creep’ in the park, but to begin a methodical campaign to record, archive, and preserve the various soundscapes and signatures sounds of Acadia National Park as they exist today. The National XL2Park Service (NPS) recognizes the value and importance of natural sounds. NPS management policy 4.9 states: “The National Park Service will preserve, to the greatest extent possible, the natural soundscapes of parks.” The research findings of the WPI Soundscape Analysis Teams resulted in the formation of the WPI Sound Archive Team in 2014.