ACADIA NAT’L PARK — The National Park Service has unveiled “preliminary concepts” for a comprehensive transportation plan aimed at reducing traffic and parking congestion, improving safety and promoting high-quality visitor experiences.
Options range from creating a reservation system for popular parking lots to restricting the number of vehicles that can be on some sections of the Park Loop Road at any given time. The possibility of changing many of the Loop Road’s current access points to exits only also is included.
The need for such a plan has been highlighted this summer and fall as a record number of visitors have strained Acadia’s ability to accommodate them.
“The quality of the visitor experience is diminished as a result of congestion on roadways and crowding at specific attraction sites and during peak use times/seasons,” park officials said in the Preliminary Concepts Newsletter made public last week.
The public has until Nov. 30 to submit comments on the various alternatives that the NPS planning team has identified as possible solutions. Four preliminary concepts have been developed for the Mount Desert Island section of the park.
One concept includes establishing a reservation system for private vehicle access to the Cadillac Mountain summit, as well as for parking at Jordan Pond House and Sand Beach, during peak use times.
This option calls for eliminating most right-lane parking on the one-way section of the Park Loop Road to improve traffic flow and safety. Public bus service would be expanded to provide access to the areas where right-lane parking is eliminated.
To better manage the number and timing of commercial tour buses entering the park, a reservation system would be established for tour bus access past the Sand Beach entrance station and/or to the Cadillac Mountain summit.
The second preliminary concept that NPS officials have outlined includes limiting the number of private vehicles allowed on the Ocean Drive section of the Loop Road at any one time during peak use periods. This would be done “to ensure free flowing roadway conditions and adequate parking for visitors.”
As with the first option, most right-lane parking on the one-way section of the Loop Road would be eliminated, and the frequency of the Island Explorer bus services on the Sand Beach and Loop Road bus routes would be increased.
A reservation system would be established during peak times for private vehicle access to the Cadillac Mountain summit and at Jordan Pond House.
“Part of the rationale behind some of these concepts is providing visitors with some degree of certainty about what to expect and what they’re going to see,” said Acadia Superintendent Kevin Schneider.
As part of option number two, commercial tour bus access to the Loop Road and Cadillac Mountain would be replaced with buses operated by a park concessionaire. Large groups arriving by commercial bus or cruise ship would transfer to the concession buses for tours of the park.
As part of the third preliminary concept, a new entrance station would be built on the segment of the Loop Road between the Hulls Cove Visitor Center and Eagle Lake Road to serve as the primary gateway to the park. Another entrance station would be built at Stanley Brook Road.
“During peak use times, all other existing entrances would be used as exit points only for private vehicles,” said park officials.
Private vehicles would be required to obtain a reservation in advance to drive past either of the two entrance stations during peak times.
The two-way section of the Loop Road between Cadillac Mountain and Jordan Pond House would become one way to improve bike safety.
As with the second option, commercial tour bus access to the park would be replaced with a concession bus operation.
With preliminary concept number four, there would be two-way traffic on the entire Loop Road “to facilitate efficient and flexible travel options.”
During the peak visitor season, access to the Loop Road would be by bus only, but visitors with disabilities could get a permit for access to the Loop Road in their own vehicles.
The Hulls Cove Visitor Center would be a transportation hub for shuttle and tour buses. Parking for private vehicles would be expanded at the Visitor Center and at remote locations such as Acadia Gateway Center in Trenton.
During the shoulder seasons, the number of private vehicles allowed on the Loop Road at any one time would be limited.
“I don’t want people to have the impression that we’re trying to reduce visitation through this transportation plan; that’s not the objective,” Schneider said. “The data we have suggests we can actually accommodate even more people if we just redistribute them during the day.
“We want to be as unrestrictive as possible while still achieving our objectives.”
The NPS has identified two preliminary concepts for addressing possible future transportation challenges in the Schoodic Peninsula section of Acadia.
With one of the concepts, a reservation system for entering the park by private vehicle could be implemented during the peak season if the number of vehicles begins to diminish the visitor experience or threaten park resources.
With the second concept, bike lanes would be created on the Schoodic Loop Road to improve safety. If the number of private vehicles begins to exceed capacity, access to the Loop Road could be restricted primarily to bikes and Island Explorer buses.
The preliminary transportation plan concepts were developed following workshops last year in which members of the public offered suggestions.
Schneider emphasized that the park service has not identified a preferred alternative for addressing parking, traffic and related issues.
“We haven’t yet evaluated which concepts make the most sense,” he said. “That’s why we want to get public feedback before we go further.”
The park service will hold two public forums on the preliminary transportation plan concepts: on Nov. 2 at 6:30 p.m. at Peninsula School in Prospect Harbor and on Nov. 3 at 6:30 p.m. at MDI High School.
Comments also may be submitted by visiting the NPS Planning, Environment and Public Comment website at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/ACADTransportationPlan and clicking “Open for Comment.”
Comments also may be mailed to: Acadia National Park, Attn: Transportation Plan, P.O. Box 177, Bar Harbor, ME 04609.
The NPS is scheduled to prepare the final version of the Acadia transportation plan by the fall of 2018.