A concept drawing for a possible configuration of Acadia National Park administrative facilities in Hulls Cove in Bar Harbor shows a new visitor center and parking lots, center, maintenance buildings, upper left, and a law enforcement and emergency services building, lower right. IMAGE COURTESY OF ANP

Acadia explores new HQ options

BAR HARBOR — Saddled with a growing list of buildings nearing the end of their life expectancies spread over multiple sites, Acadia National Park officials have been exploring options for new administrative facilities.

At a public meeting at the Jesup Library on Tuesday night, officials took the wraps off several options that could be developed further should funding and National Park Service priorities allow.

“This process has been several years in the making,” said park spokesperson Chris Buczko. “Nothing is final. It is still very much in-process.”

Currently, park administrative offices, including interpretation, law enforcement, resource protection and maintenance, are housed in a series of buildings and temporary trailers on Eagle Lake Road on McFarland Hill in Bar Harbor. Offices are crammed, and according to Deputy Superintendent Mike Madell, “some of the buildings are in need of more than simple repair.”

The current visitor center in Hulls Cove, which can be used only in warm weather, handles upwards of 6,000 people a day in summer.

That structure, however, is located atop a hill some 56 steps from the nearest parking area. There are only two parking spaces for visitors with disabilities to use to access an elevator.

Staff in that building are forced to move twice a year between it and facilities on Eagle Lake Road in Bar Harbor. A small building housing interpretive staff there serves as a small visitor center in winter.

According to Buczko, any future plans need to take into account space needs, a desire to move fuel storage and maintenance garages out of the watershed of Eagle Lake, which serves at the town of Bar Harbor’s water supply, and engendering a sense of arrival for visitors to the park.

Because of the need to take into account response time for law enforcement and emergency personnel, a desire to minimize environmental disruption, and fuel costs and travel time, several possible sites around Mount Desert Island and in Trenton have been ruled out. They includes gravel pits and properties where the park stockpiles landscaping materials, private land outside the park boundary, land on the Schoodic Peninsula and the Island Explorer transportation hub in on Route 3 in Trenton.

Under standard government practice, three options have been explored. The first, which is required of all projects, is the “no action” alternative. Option two would create a new administrative facility on Eagle Lake Road. Maintenance facilities would shift to the west side of the hill to reduce the possibility of contaminating Eagle Lake. A new visitor center would be built in Hulls Cove, at the bottom of the hill from the current structure.

Option three would leave only existing park housing, curatorial space and records storage at McFarland Hill and build a new visitor center, administration offices, a law enforcement office and maintenance facilities on existing park land in Hulls Cove. A new gateway arch, similar to those used in other national parks, would stand astride the current Park Loop Road at that location.

Buczko stressed everything is in the preliminary stages. He said there were no cost estimates. The last one for a similar project more than a decade ago estimated the work at more than $10 million.

As some of the two dozen people in attendance asked specific questions about items such as restrooms and turning lanes, Buczko stressed that that level of detail has not been considered. “This is really just a look at it from 10,000 feet,” he said.

In response to a question about the potential for realigning the visitor center entrance road, chief of facilities Keith Johnston explained that state transportation officials had indicated there was sufficient sight distance to do that. He echoed comments about the park’s 60-year-old buildings. “Some of the buildings we’re operating out of are one step above condemnation,” he said.

Hulls Cove neighbor Rocky Mann urged officials to consider the potential of any fuel or chemical spills fouling nearby Breakneck Brook. One advantage of the Hulls Cove site is that it does have access to Bar Harbor’s municipal sewer system, which would help protect groundwater, officials said.

Madell said the park has been developing preliminary plans because of the age of the buildings, the need for more space and a desire to move quickly if funding were to become available. “The better way to do all this would be in a new general management plan,” he said. The park’s last management plan was adopted nearly two decades ago. “There’s no funding in the cards to do that,” he said, noting such a plan can take a decade to finalize.

In response to questions, Madell explained that there is no funding currently available for the second phase of the Trenton complex that will include some kind of visitor contact facility even if the formal visitor center is redone in Bar Harbor. Once the park concludes its transportation plan, which is currently in-process, the way forward may be clearer, Madell said.

Most in the audience praised the effort that has gone into the plan so far. “I think this is a fantastic plan,” said David Donovan of Mount Desert, who serves as a seasonal interpretive ranger.

“The key factor is a desire to keep people in the various offices together,” explained Buczko. He stressed that the park welcomes public input. “We are open to your ideas, suggestions and comments,” he said.

Visitors can access a comment form by visiting www.nps.gov/acad and clicking on the “get involved” link followed by the “planning” link and look for the public comment PECP link. The form is labeled for the headquarters project.

Earl Brechlin

Earl Brechlin

Editor at Mount Desert Islander
Former Islander editor Earl Brechlin first discovered Mount Desert Island 35 years ago and never left. The author of seven guide and casual history books, he is a Registered Maine Guide and has served as president of the Maine and New England Press Associations. He and his wife live in Bar Harbor.
Earl Brechlin

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