Capturing Acadia: Through the Eyes of High Schoolers


Engaging the next generation takes on many forms. At Acadia National Park in Maine, four high school students spent their summer capturing stunning landscapes with photos and videos as part of the park’s youth technology team. Through this innovative program, 17-year old Emma Forthofer -- who grew up with Acadia in her backyard -- explored the park in new ways and discovered a passion for public lands.

How has spending a summer in Acadia changed your view of the public lands? 

My summer in Acadia made me treasure all of the national parks a lot more. We saw so many new places that were so stunning and beautiful, and if there’s all these different places in Acadia alone, I can't even imagine how many other cool places there are in the other 58 national parks. My experience gave me a deeper appreciation for the foresight someone had to create these parks so that we can experience them today.

What role do photos and videos play in getting people excited about public lands?

Photos, videos and timelapses are a gateway. People see these beautiful little moments and they want to experience it for themselves. They’re snippets to get people inspired to go out and explore their own trails. I hope my videos and all of the work our team did inspire people to get outside.

A woman's silhouette against a sun setting over the water.
Emma takes a photo at sunrise along Ocean Path. Acadia National Park is known for its colorful sunrises. Photo by Kristi Rugg, National Park Service.

How has this program changed the way you feel about Acadia? 

I live five minutes away from the park. I have to say before my job I didn't spend nearly enough time there, but after this job I’ve gotten outside more. Before volleyball practice, I’ll go hike and I never would have done that previously. The program has also given me a strong sense of the need for protecting the park. I’ve always thought of Acadia as my home, but never really connected with it in such a way before spending eight hours every day out in the sun. I feel more accountable and responsible and want to continue to make sure it's preserved well. 

What’s your favorite place in the park that you’ve discovered through this program?

I really enjoyed spending the night at Schoodic Woods -- I hadn’t camped in Acadia before, and I liked being able to watch the stars. I will definitely go camping again -- it was a real gift and I’ll treasure the experience for a long time.

A night sky with the milky way galaxy stretching down the middle, surrounded by countless stars and juxtaposed against a number of pine trees.
The Milky Way stretches across the sky at Acadia National Park. Photo by Matthew Lambert, Acadia Youth Technology Team, National Park Service.  

What’s the most memorable experience from your time in Acadia?

Will, Matt and I were looking for baby barred owls near Sieur de Monts and we didn't expect to see them. We were taking photos of other birds and five minutes before we had to go, Will suddenly saw a barred owl right next to trail. We followed the owl a little ways into the woods and then saw another -- it was really exciting to be so close to owls! When listening back to the video we took, you can hear us saying, “Wow, that’s so cool!” 

A small owl sitting on a tree branch.
A baby barred owl perches in a tree near Sieur de Monts in Acadia National Park. Photo by Will Greene, Acadia Youth Technology Team, National Park Service.

What was the most impactful thing you’ll take away from this experience?

One unexpected thing that happened for me was that from spending so much time outdoors I overcame a lot of personal fears. I used to be afraid of the dark and afraid of being in any body of water alone, but after spending so much time outdoors with great people, I feel a lot safer in nature. The other important takeaway is knowing that I’m happier as I spend more time outside. It definitely has made a huge impact on how I feel about myself, and I’ve come to value spending stress-free time outdoors every day -- it’s a break and a release. 

Has this experience influenced what you’d like to pursue next?

I already knew I wanted to do filmmaking, but after this job I’m 100 percent certain. I came to work every day so happy and never felt I had to drag myself out of bed. Now I know I’ll feel motivated to do this type of work long term, reinforcing filmmaking as my future. As an adult, I want to stay active even if it's just volunteering to clean up the land. If you start young, other people will feel comfortable in nature as they grow older -- just like it worked for me.

Tall, skinny trees densely populate an area already laden with light green brush and large boulders. A woman is in the background taking a picture of the scene.
Large trees in Acadia National Park frame Emma as she takes a picture. Photo by Will Greene, Acadia Youth Technology Team, National Park Service.

See a showcase of some of the best shots captured by Emma and her colleagues this summer.