Quoddy Dam prepares to ferry passengers through the fog from Bar Harbor to Winter Harbor on Tuesday afternoon. PHOTO BY DICK BROOM

Late ferry start leaves Explorer seats empty



ACADIA NATIONAL PARK — A three-week delay in the start of passenger ferry service between Bar Harbor and Winter Harbor this summer resulted in a 55 percent drop in the number of people riding the Island Explorer bus on the Schoodic Peninsula route.

Only 330 people rode the Schoodic bus in the three weeks starting June 23 – an average of just under 16 people a day – compared to 742 in the same period last year. Meanwhile, the Island Explorer system overall saw an 8 percent increase in ridership to 104,205 passengers.

Every year, the Island Explorer buses start running June 23. The ferry service across Frenchman Bay typically starts the same day. The ferry docks at the Winter Harbor Marina, where passengers can get on the bus for a free ride around the Schoodic section of Acadia National Park, with designated stops at Frazer Point and Schoodic Point. The bus connects to hiking trails and also goes to the villages of Winter Harbor, Birch Harbor and Prospect Harbor.

The ferry service is operated by Downeast Windjammer Cruises, which is owned by Steve Pagels of Cherryfield. He said Tuesday that several factors contributed to the service’s late start this year. Those included the removal of the old Bar Harbor Inn pier, which forced a change in landing sites in Bar Harbor.

“Our new pier is not finished yet at the Bar Harbor Inn, and the folks at Ocean Properties have been very nice in allowing us to launch over there at Harborside,” he said.

Citing other reasons for the ferry service’s late start, Pagels said the floats at the Winter Harbor Marina “were having some issues.” And, he added, there were “some challenges with getting the vessels up and going.”

The ferry makes four round trips a day between Bar Harbor and Winter Harbor. The round-trip rates are $32 for adults and $22 for children, plus $7 for bicycles. Depending on weather, a transit typically takes 45 minutes.

In February, Acadia officials said they were studying options for providing more frequent and less expensive ferry service between Bar Harbor and Schoodic. Park Superintendent Sheridan Steele told the Acadia Advisory Commission that the current ferry service is “pretty limited.”

He said the nearly completed Schoodic Woods campground and day-use parking lot, plus new bike and hiking trails, are expected to boost significantly the number of people wanting to visit the Schoodic section of the park.

Steele said the cross-bay ferry “is going to become a much more important connection … and we’re working to try to help make improvements to that service.”

Pagels said at the time that he probably would increase the number of daily ferry crossings once the Schoodic Woods campground opened, which was expected to be early this summer. Now that the campground isn’t scheduled to open until just before Labor Day, when bus service ends on Schoodic, he plans to stick with the four daily round trips. But he said he would “revisit that next summer to see what the traffic flow is.”

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