ACADIA NAT’L PARK — “This summer is going to be different; there’s no doubt about it,” Acadia Superintendent Kevin Schneider said of the first – and, one hopes, only – tourist season under the COVID-19 cloud.
“The Island Explorer bus system isn’t going to be running, and some of the visitor services we provide might be a little different.
“But the fundamentals of the park, such as going for a hike, walking on a carriage road or driving on Ocean Drive, will continue to be available. You will still be able to do those things.”
The Park Loop Road and the Cadillac Mountain summit road opened Monday, about six weeks later than usual. The park’s carriage roads will be open to pedestrians starting this Friday. The carriage roads remain unsafe for bicycle or horseback riding because of downed trees and washouts from winter storms.
The Jordan Pond House restaurant opened Monday for “grab and go” service. The hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
“The menu is limited, but it does include popovers,” said General Manager Nick Shults. “A minimal amount of seating is available inside and outside on our patio for those that would like to enjoy the view while enjoying a popover. We plan to open for full service around July 1.”.
Now open daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. are the Jordan Pond House gift shop and the Cadillac Mountain Eco Store. The opening date for the gift shop at Thunder Hole has not yet been set.
Carriages of Acadia at Wildwood Stables will begin offering carriage rides June 13.
“We’re going to be very careful because of the coronavirus,” said owner Michael Carpenter.
“We get a lot of families and people traveling together, and if that’s the case, we can take them. But if not, we’re going to cut down quite substantially on the number of people on our carriages and keep everybody six feet apart.”
The Hulls Cove Visitor Center remains closed, but park rangers are providing limited information services under tents outside the visitor center.
The park’s campgrounds will remain closed until at least July 1.
Schneider said a lot of work has been done in a short time to get the park ready for visitors. Clearing debris and repairing damage caused by winter storms was delayed.
“All of that work that normally would have been part of our spring opening has been compressed into the last few weeks,” Schneider said.
One of the first jobs each spring is cleaning the park’s seasonal employee housing and turning on the water. This year, the work involved the same number of housing units, but for fewer people.
“We had planned to have about 85 people in park housing this summer, but we are only going to be housing about 38,” Schneider said. “We’re requiring that everybody have their own private bathroom and private bedroom. Normally, our folks share bathrooms quite extensively, so that has really limited our ability to house people.”
Fortunately, Schneider said, a number of the park’s seasonal employees have found housing in the community.
“I think the owners of some vacation rentals have been willing to rent those out to our folks for the summer,” he said.
“But we are running with a smaller crew than we would like. We may be able to do some local hiring non-competitively to help supplement our workforce. Custodians, lifeguards, trail crew members and laborers are some of the positions where we see the greatest need right now.”
The Jordan Pond House also is feeling the housing squeeze. Normally, 50 to 60 of the restaurant’s employees live in the nearby dormitory, which the park owns.
“Currently, we are not housing any of our employees in the dormitory,” Shultssaid. “This will impact staffing options as we start to ramp up for full service.”
He said the National Park Service has been very helpful in trying to find employee housing.
The 2020 season of the Island Explorer bus system, which last year carried about 648,000 passengers, is officially “postponed indefinitely.” But the buses are not expected to run at all this year.
Schneider said park officials considered closing the walkway from the Park Loop Road down to Thunder Hole to keep people from crowding together there.
“But that might push people to go out on the rocks to get to Thunder Hole, and that puts them in an even more dangerous position,” he said.
“We want to encourage people to be responsible, to wear a mask when they can’t be socially distant. But we are not the social distance police. At the end of the day, it is the visitors’ responsibility to be smart.”
Acadia visitors are now required to purchase an entrance pass and to display it in their vehicle. Passes can be purchased online at www.recreation.gov/pass/. The Sand Beach entrance station on the Park Loop Road is expected to open by June 8 for credit card purchases.