ACADIA NAT’L PARK — There is almost nothing in Acadia’s long-range transportation plan, which was released Monday, that will surprise anyone who was familiar with the draft plan the National Park Service put out for public comment last April.
Just a few minor tweaks were made in the light of some of the comments received.
To relieve parking and traffic congestion during the peak visitor season, the transportation plan still calls for the park to establish a timed-entry reservation system for the Ocean Drive section of the Park Loop Road, the Cadillac Summit road and the north parking lot at Jordan Pond.
Parking in the right lane on portions of the Loop Road will continue to be allowed for the time being. But on-road parking will eventually be phased out, the plan states, “as other options, such as expanded Island Explorer [bus] service and additional parking areas at Hulls Cove and the Acadia Gateway Center [in Trenton], become available.”
The plan calls for expanding the parking lot at the Hulls Cove Visitor Center to accommodate many more vehicles and replacing the existing visitor center building, which is 52 steps up the hill from the parking lot, with a new one at the parking lot level.
The existing parking lot and restroom on the north side of Route 233 (Eagle Lake Road) at Eagle Lake are to be removed and a larger lot built a short distance up McFarland Hill at the park’s maintenance storage yard known as Liscomb Pit.
The park will look at ways to expand the Island Explorer bus system and, within a few years, will require commercial tour bus operators to use smaller vehicles.
Acadia Superintendent Kevin Schneider said in an interview with the Islander on Tuesday that none of the changes the plan calls for will be made this year because it will take time to work out the details of implementation.
“Our visitors aren’t going to see any changes this summer as a result of this plan,” he said. “This is a long-term plan; it’s going to take years.”
But he said some elements of the plan, including the timed-entry reservation system, could be put in place as soon as next year.
“Whether it’s 2020 or 2021, we don’t know yet,” he said. “It’s relatively easy to start a reservation system on Ocean Drive because we already have an entrance station there. Jordon Pond and Cadillac Mountain are going to be a little trickier.
“We anticipate working with the private sector to figure out how to do that in a way that involves minimal infrastructure, expense, changes to the road and staffing requirements,” he continued.
Once the reservation system is put in place, visitors would need to make advance reservations to drive on Ocean Drive between the entrance station and Otter Cliff Road between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. starting the second Friday in June and going through the Sunday following Columbus Day. The same time period would apply to parking in the north lot at Jordan Pond.
The daily reservation period would start earlier and go later for Cadillac Mountain because so many people want to be at the summit at sunrise and sunset. Reservations would be required from as early as 4 a.m. to as late as 9 p.m.
“On an average, beautiful summer morning, there are 450 cars parked at the summit of Cadillac, where we have 150 parking spaces,” Schneider said last spring. “So there are basically 150 cars parked legally and 300 parked everywhere, many in unsafe locations.”
Frequently, there is a similar gridlock at sunset.
“The timed-entry system would provide reservation holders with a specific time window during which their vehicle would be permitted to enter the [Ocean Drive or Cadillac] corridor or [Jordan Pond] parking lot,” according to the transportation plan.
The executive summary of the 282-page plan states, “The purpose of the transportation plan is to outline a comprehensive approach to providing safe and efficient transportation to visitors to Acadia National Park while ensuring that park resources and values are protected and visitors are able to enjoy a variety of high-quality experiences.”
Schneider said a key to that is designing and building a new visitor center at Hulls Cove and greatly increasing the number of parking spaces.
“The vision would be you walk into the visitor center and there are exhibits that tell you why this place was created, what makes it special, what there is to do here,” he said. “And then you come out the other side of the visitor center and there’s an Island Explorer bus waiting to take you to Sand Beach or Jordan Pond or wherever you want to go.
“By segregating the buses from the private cars and doing something that’s very thoughtful from a design standpoint, you have an improvement in the experience.”
Envisioning a visitor center that is larger and more accessible and has more parking is one thing. Paying for it is another.
“Funding is something we are going to be going after,” Schneider said. “We’ve gotten a lot of support from our [National Park Service] Washington office, and there’s a lot of interest in this project. So, I’m hopeful we will be able to get something done soon.”
As for increasing the capacity and reach of the fare-free Island Explorer bus system, Schneider said, “Friends of Acadia has funded an initial grant to help figure out Island Explorer 2.0, if you will. We will be looking at things like which routes need more service and, if you were to add new routes, where they would be.
“This is an opportunity to collaborate with the community, with the towns, about things like Island Explorer service. What do others want to see from this?”
David McDonald, president and CEO of Friends of Acadia, said his organization is “ready to help with planning, funding and convening community partners to tackle the priorities and projects identified in the plan in the months and years to come.
“While no plan is perfect and implementation will be a challenge, Friends of Acadia fundamentally believes that new approaches like those outlined in the plan are needed in order to ensure public safety, a high-quality visitor experience and protection of park resources in the face of Acadia’s rapidly growing visitation.”
The entire Acadia Transportation Plan may be found at go.nps.gov/AcadiaPlan. Click on Document List and scroll to the bottom.