Acadia transportation plan draws support, criticism



ACADIA NAT’L PARK — Among the suggestions offered by people who weighed in on the park’s draft transportation plan during the 60-day public comment period this spring, this one might be the most fanciful: Build a floating parking garage.

Another candidate for the least-likely-to-fly idea: Remove the Otter Cove causeway and use a ferry to bridge the resulting gap in the Park Loop Road.

The National Park Service (NPS) last week released a 28-page report summarizing the public comments and suggestions on the transportation plan, which aims to reduce traffic and parking congestion.

“A total of 489 unique correspondences were received via email, mail, in person at meetings and information sessions and on [an NPS] website,” the report stated. “An additional 5,750 form letters were submitted to the park.”

Those form letters were submitted by members of the National Parks Conservation Association through its website.

Reservation system debated

The subject of a large number of comments, according to the NPS report, was the park’s proposal to implement a reservation system for entering three of the most congested areas during peak traffic periods in the summer. Those areas are the Ocean Drive section of the Park Loop Road, the Cadillac Mountain Road and the north lot at Jordan Pond.

Some who submitted comments said any such plan “should allow for some pass-through (no parking) access to Ocean Drive.”

“This would allow scenic driving to still occur for those who don’t want to park” at popular places such as Sand Beach, Thunder Hole and the Precipice, commenters said.

The NPS report said some people suggested Acadia should use a “one-in, one-out queuing method for parking at Cadillac Mountain rather than reservations.”

Should ‘locals’ be exempt?

Under the park’s draft plan, the proposed reservation system would apply to everyone. But some people who submitted comments suggested an exemption for local residents and possibly others.

“Many commenters believed that a reservation system should have some accommodation for locals,” the NPS report said.

Some think the reservation system “should not apply to locals at all.” Others expressed the opinion that if it does apply to local residents, “allowances could be made for them such as discounted passes [or] unlimited drive-through access with a special pass…”

The NPS report said other people who submitted comments felt that local residents should not receive any preferential treatment.

“These commenters expressed that this is a national park and that no class of individuals or residency status should allow preference for access. [They] also expressed that…a reservation system is likely the best option to address the pressing need to reduce vehicular impact on the park.”

Some commenters suggested that, if a reservation system is implemented, “specific allocations for access [should] be set aside for a variety of user groups,” according to the NPS report.

“These include volunteers working in the park, locals, American Indian communities, seniors, visitors needing to use blue [handicap] parking spaces, visitors who have a national park in their home state, American citizens, commercial use authorization holders, emergency vehicles and frequent visitors.”

More parking or less?

“Some commenters thought the park should add new parking lots at popular destinations rather than adopting a plan to manage visitation,” the NPS report said.

On the other hand, others “suggested that parking spaces should be removed. Commenters specifically suggested that half of the parking lot at Cadillac Mountain be removed and the area restored to natural conditions.”

Right lane parking

The draft transportation plan’s proposal to phase out right-lane parking on the Park Loop Road also elicited differing opinions.

“Commenters felt that the National Park Service should immediately eliminate all right lane parking…Doing so will improve safety for cyclists and pedestrians and help eliminate congestion that detracts from the visitor experience,” the NPS report said.

“Others suggested the park should not eliminate right lane parking; it has been used for many years to provide space for RV parking, relieve pressure on over-filled parking lots, provide access to trailheads, and provide relatively close parking for people with limited mobility.”

Parking at Eagle Lake

The park’s draft transportation plan proposes the elimination of the small parking lot and restrooms on Eagle Lake Road at Eagle Lake and creating a new, larger lot and restrooms a short distance away at Liscomb Pit. That idea doesn’t seem to have a lot of support, according to the NPS report. It said commenters noted that “the existing parking and restroom at Eagle Lake is better positioned and closer to the carriage roads than Liscomb Pit, particularly for people with limited mobility, for winter users on skis and snowshoes and for visitors portaging canoes and kayaks.”

Vehicle size limits

One point on which many people who submitted comments agreed was the idea of restricting the size of commercial vehicles, particularly on the Park Loop Road and Cadillac Mountain road.

“Commenters expressed strong support for limiting the height and length of oversized vehicles entering the park, including tour buses, RVs and campers,” the report said, noting that some vehicles are so large that they take up more than one lane on curves and under bridges.

Complete comments released

In addition to the Comment Summary Report, the NPS posted a 794-page report that includes all comments received during the public comment period, but with personally identifying information such as names and email addresses redacted.

The NPS had said in June that the individual comments would not be released because doing so could violate the federal Privacy Act. But then an individual filed a request for the comments under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

“The FOIA gave us the authority to proactively disclose all the public comments,” Christie Anastasia, Acadia’s public affairs specialist, said in an email.

Both the Comment Summary Report and the report containing all of the public comments are available at go.nps.gov/AcadiaPlan.

As for what’s next, Acadia officials said in a website posting, “We are working to finalize the plan and develop responses to substantive comments. We expect to release the final Acadia National Park Transportation Plan during winter 2018/2019.”

Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]

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