Acadia National Park

In-person Projects Return to Acadia National Park

Back in grade school, some teachers would start off the academic year with a writing prompt, asking students what they did during their summer vacations.

While WPI students have long since wrapped up their grade school careers, the ones who spent their summers at theAcadia National Park Project Center to complete their Interactive Qualifying Projects (IQPs) would have quite the stories to tell—and not just about their completed project work.

“We were the first group to go back to in-person work since the pandemic began,” says Project Center Director and Professor of Music Frederick Bianchi, who cites being able to meet and work with his students in person as the highlight of this year’s trip. “It was great to just see the students arrive, and to see them in person for the first time in this environment that was so great … all of us being there together was just perfect.”

And really, there’s no place better than Acadia for long-awaited reunions and picturesque scenes. Its stunning views and myriad outdoor activities make it a popular tourist destination—so popular that much of the students’ project work focused on addressing preservation, improvement, appreciation, and sustainability of the natural environment, as well as issues affecting the visitor experience.

Students at Acadia National Park

Students working on the Trail View Hiking Project in Acadia National Park.

“The universal problem is that there are so many visitors,” Bianchi explains. “That translates to not only traffic problems but the visitor experience. It all trickles down; there’s resource depletion, pollution, noise … there are so many issues underneath that one umbrella, and endless opportunities for WPI to engage in important work.”

The reasons students choose to travel to the Acadia National Park Project Center are as varied as the projects themselves. Some, such as James Van Milligen ’23, were drawn to the project center by their love of the outdoors, while Navelyn Carrillo ’23 had never been to a national park before and was eager to spend her summer at one. Bryce Bragdon ’23 and Donovan Shaw ’23 are both native Mainers who wanted to get a different perspective on the park itself.

“I’ve lived in Maine my whole life and had only really been to the park once,” Bragdon says. “This was a great opportunity to help out something in my home state and experience it from a whole new perspective.”

Many of the projects are also years in the making: Bragdon and Carrillo were part of the Trail View Hiking project, which focused on documenting all the trails in the park with panoramic photos and informational sidebars to create immersive, 360-degree virtual tours for park visitors and cyber tourists. The project originally began in 2012 and has been built upon by subsequent teams ever since. Other multi-year projects include tracking light pollution through the Dark Sky project, and tracking and monitoring visitor traffic behavior. It all makes for the ultimate project experience as they collaborate with each other, as well as with students of years past.

This year, the project center saw not only the return of in-person project work, but a new partnership with StreetLight Data, a big-data transportation company based in San Francisco. Access to StreetLight Data allowed many of the WPI teams to achieve in a single term what has taken past teams several years to achieve. Van Milligen and his team used this data to develop strategies to help reduce traffic congestion in the park.

“There was no better feeling than actually being in the park collecting data,” Van Milligen says. “One of the rangers actually came up after [our presentation] and had a conversation with us on one of our methods.”

There was no better feeling than actually being in the park collecting data.

James Van Milligen ’23

While the excitement of in-person projects was palpable, there was still the uncertainty of whether anyone would be able to see the students’ final presentations. Bianchi prepared his students for the possibility that, because things were not quite back to normal, the presentations might be sparsely attended. However, their anxieties dissipated when the park’s superintendent and entire leadership team walked through the door to see the students and commend them for their work.

“We held up our end of the bargain,” Bianchi says. “We did all the research, and we were well-prepared. We kept our fingers crossed, and it all ended up being perfect.”

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