ACADIA NAT’L PARK — With the park on pace to have more than three million visitors this year, some people, including members of the Acadia Advisory Commission, are questioning whether it can adequately accommodate so many people.
The commission, composed mostly of citizen representatives of towns around the park, is charged with advising Acadia officials on park management issues.
At the panel’s meeting Monday at the Schoodic Institute, commission member Ben Emory of Bar Harbor asked whether the increase in visitation this year, following last year’s similarly large percentage increase, is having a negative effect on the visitor experience.
“It seems to me that there’s some sense that if visitation goes up 20 percent, given the fact that the park is over capacity, that the quality of the experience goes down maybe 20 percent,” Emory said.
Acadia Superintendent Kevin Schneider said there have been no studies of the impact of overcrowding on visitor satisfaction here, but anecdotal evidence suggests Emory’s concern is valid.
“I was chatting with a couple from Minnesota who were here for Labor Day and asked them how their visit was, and they said they couldn’t get around,” Schneider said. “They rode the [Island Explorer] bus, which is what we encourage people to do, but they were afraid to get off the bus.”
He said that was because there were so many people waiting to get on the bus where they had planned to get off – many more than the bus could accommodate – that they were afraid they would be stranded if they got off.
“So, those folks did not have the greatest of experiences,” Schneider said.
“And when Cadillac [summit road] closes down six times in a summer because it is so congested … that suggests that something is broken and we’ve got to fix it.”
The latest Cadillac closure due to overcrowding came on Monday morning, the same day the commission was discussing the issue.
Schneider said the hope is that the comprehensive transportation plan that the park is working on will be a big part of the fix. The planning process began in January 2015 and has included significant public input.
“The plan is meant to look at congestion, traffic and parking issues and their impacts on the visitor experience, as well as the impacts on park resources and values,” according to Acadia Management Assistant John Kelly.
He told the park’s Advisory Commission that members of the transportation planning team have developed preliminary concepts for solving – or at least ameliorating – congestion problems. He said those preliminary concepts will be unveiled in mid-October, and that the public will have about a month to comment on them. During that time, he said, the park plans to hold two public meetings, one on Mount Desert Island and one on the Schoodic Peninsula, where the public can comment on the transportation plan concepts and ask questions.
Then, throughout next year, the concepts will be turned into specific options for addressing the park’s immediate and long-range transportation needs. He said the plan is to be finalized by the fall of 2018.
Information about the transportation plan is available at parkplanning.nps.gov/acadiatransportationplan.