When thousands of adventure seekers flock to the largest island off the coast of Maine to immerse themselves in the earthy smells and picturesque sights of Acadia National Park, a well-connected bus system awaits to help them travel and explore.
“I think we’ve meant different things to different people,” said Paul Murphy, general manager of Downeast Transportation, which operates the Island Explorer.
The bus system runs each year from June 23 to Columbus Day, with a reduced schedule starting Sept. 1. It has grown to include eight bus routes linking hotels, inns and campgrounds with several destinations in Acadia National Park and neighboring village centers.
There are also bicycle expresses – 12-passenger vans that pull a trailer that can carry up to 16 bicycles on it and go back and forth between the Village Green in Bar Harbor and carriage roads.
“For Acadia National Park, we’ve been a part of easing the parking problem,” Murphy said. “For users of the park, we present them a kind of a hassle-free way of getting around the park and not having to deal with parking. For younger users, we’re a way to get to the beach if they don’t have a car yet.”
The bus service first began in 1999, designed to help mitigate congestion and air quality. On their busiest days, said Murphy, the buses carry over 10,000 passengers, taking about 5,000 cars off the road that day.
“That’s a lot of cars,” he exclaimed. “It’s hard to say whether we’re reducing air pollution or congestion, but we are slowing their growth.”
The different routes for the bus service were suggested by consultant Tom Crikelair, who felt the need for a service that allowed tourists to walk out the door of their hotel or from their tents at a campground and climb onto a bus with regular service.
This year, the Island Explorer has 28 buses in regular service along with six other as a backup in anticipation of a busy season owing to the 100th anniversaries of both Acadia National Park and the National Park Service.
The service receives a large part of its funding from federal grants as well as from the visitation fee for Acadia National Park.
L.L. Bean is another big contributor, along with Friends of Acadia and individual donors.
Island Explorer by the Numbers
- Since its inception in 1999, the system has
- Carried 5.1 million passengers
- Eliminated an estimated 1,710,939 trips in private vehicles
- Cut 24.5 tons of smog-causing pollutants
- Cut 15,942 tons of greenhouse gases