Monday, November 14, 2016

1967: From the Isles of Shoals to Acadia National Park

updated 14 November 2016

My Student Conservation Association pin
By 1967 it was becoming clear to me I was never going to excel as a scholar, having flunked my first try at introductory Physics at Cornell. I changed majors from Science Education to Biological Sciences, then to a general Bachelor of Science degree with an informal connection to Science Education once again, fighting against the stifling academic straightjacket of "required courses" the whole time. I had only a limited ability to chose among the many interesting courses Cornell offered.

Fortunately, Cornell had a couple of Professors who did not give up on me (though I'm sure I drove at least one Calculus instructor to distraction). With their encouragement, I took advantage of two opportunities that summer.

The first came as a student in Field Marine Biology at what would eventually become the Shoals Marine Laboratory, a cooperative project of the University of New Hampshire and Cornell University. Prof. John M. Kingsbury had assembled the most exceptional Faculty ever seen in the field, which, together with some of the best local talent available, filled my mind with both strong academic knowledge and great hands-on experience.

The second came as a volunteer in the Student Conservation Program (which is now the Student Conservation Association, or SCA), the great innovative opportunity to work in National Parks first conceived by Elizabeth Cushman Titus Putnam in her senior thesis at Vassar.

After receiving word that I had been approved as a Student Conservation Program volunteer (the SCA paid my rent and gave me a meal allowance, as I recall, but I received no salary) I asked if I could report to Acadia later in the season than usual upon the completion of the Field Marine Biology course at Isles of Shoals and permission was granted.

In 1967, the Shoals Marine Laboratory was only a dream in Dr. Kingsbury's mind. Field Marine Biology students were housed along with sea tables and other classroom equipment on Star Island at the Star Island Hotel. We ventured to the old Coast Guard Station on Appledore Island to study the environment there on occasion, parting the poison ivy to observe the wildlife and tidal critters, but our class did not have the use of any facilities on Appledore.

With a sense of awe and wonder at the variety of information I had absorbed at Shoals, I arrived at Acadia National Park, where Chief Naturalist Paul G. Favour, Jr. supervised my work with the Bar Harbor Garden Club at Sieur de Monts Springs and with various Ranger Naturalists.

My mother, Faith Arnold (Mrs. Howard) Diver visits Sieur de Monts.
It was a joy to work with the Garden Club and especially to accompany the Naturalists on seashore nature walks where we wandered among the tidepools pointing out the creatures unique to the various tidal zones.

Ranger Naturalist Wayne Welshans at work with megaphone (left) on seashore nature walk.
The Naturalists and the Acadia administration very much approved of my efforts as a volunteer. I was invited to return as a seasonal Ranger Naturalist for the summer of 1968. I accepted the invitation (of course!) after declining another offer from what was then Mt. McKinley National Park in Alaska. Miraculously graduating from Cornell, I arrived at Acadia to spend a fabulous summer leading nature walks and giving evening lectures at Blackwoods and Seawall campsites.

Had not budget cuts and other complications related to the Vietnam War intervened, I would have continued with a career in the National Park Service until retirement. But that was not to pass. The Civil Service folks did not forward my application across the street to the National Park Service, where my scores would have placed me in the last class for incoming Rangers before classes were cancelled indefinitely as funds were redirected to the war effort.