Schoodic eyed to ease crowds

ACADIA NAT’L PARK — Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island is a fraction of the size of parks in the West, yet it ranks not far behind Yosemite, Yellowstone and Rocky Mountain National Park in popularity.

The more than 2 million visitors who each year travel Acadia’s relatively tiny footprint make the park vulnerable to the overcrowding which plagues many of the larger parks, according to Acadia National Park Superintendent Sheridan Steele.

Acadia on MDI is 30,000 acres. If Schoodic and Isle au Haut are added – both are parts of Acadia – the total acreage is 35,000.

“Many of the Western parks are larger, and that’s a big factor,” Steele said. “They can spread out use.” Steele said the park is working to prevent Acadia from becoming a victim of its own success.

For that reason, the National Park Service hopes the “quiet side of Acadia” across Frenchman Bay on the Schoodic Peninsula will help relieve some of the pressure.

Steele said crowding at the summit of Cadillac Mountain on MDI is episodic – such as when two to three cruise ships arrive at the same time in the fall.

The passengers often take a bus tour to the top of the mountain for the eye-popping views of Frenchman Bay and the islands.

“If we can encourage many of those cruise ship passengers to experience Schoodic, everyone will be better off,” Steele said. “We’re hoping the Schoodic District can become a model for how we can get people out of their automobiles.”

Part of that plan to bring more park visitors to the Schoodic Peninsula is to use a ferry to bring visitors on MDI across Frenchman Bay to Winter Harbor.

“People can get a great perspective of MDI from the water, plus a great water experience with porpoise, seals and eagles, Ironbound Island and all the other wonderful things Frenchman Bay has to offer,” Steele said.

Readers in a USA Today poll this year ranked Acadia as their favorite national park.

“Good Morning America” viewers this summer ranked Acadia as their favorite place – outdistancing the Chicago Lakefront, Glacier National Park, Gulf Shores and Lake Tahoe.

“It has focused our attention on crowding at certain times in the park,” Steele said. “We are eager to find ways of spreading out use and still providing a quality experience for everyone who comes to Acadia. Being in a traffic jam is not a quality experience.”

Some national parks are limiting the number of visitors on a first-come, first-served basis and are limiting permits to hike the trails.

Steele said the park service already is thinking about how to prevent overcrowding at Acadia on the Schoodic Peninsula, where two new trails and a 100-site campground are due to open July 1, 2015.

The Schoodic Woods campground will include parking for 120 day trippers. Visitors will be encouraged to keep their vehicles in the lot for the day, Steele said.

The park service is trading in its single Island Explorer bus for two slightly smaller buses and will encourage visitors to walk, bike or ride the Island Explorer around the scenic six-mile loop road at Schoodic.

The grant to purchase the buses will enable the park service to reduce the time between runs from one hour to half an hour.

The park service is working on a plan to keep large, lumbering recreational vehicles off Schoodic’s loop road.

One of the new trails will allow bicyclists to travel across the perimeter of the park and then back again without having to bike along roads that have no shoulder or bike lanes.

On the park service’s wish list is a bike trail between the marina where the ferry docks on Sargent Street and the park.

Schoodic Scenic Byway funds or other sources of backing might be available for the bike path, Steele said.

On MDI, the park encourages visitors to ride the Island Explorer and to plan their visits for off-peak hours before 10 a.m. and after 3 p.m.

“We’re also beginning to undertake a transportation study for the whole park,” Steele said.

He said a shuttle bus traveling up to the Cadillac summit is being discussed as an alternative to cars and large tour buses.

“They can get off at the top of Cadillac and spend 10 minutes, one hour or half a day,” Steele said.

Acadia Park Planner John Kelly said Acadia ranked ninth in the number of national park visitors in 2012, behind the Great Smokey Mountains, Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Yellowstone, Rocky Mountain National Park, Zion National Park, Olympic and Grand Teton.

Cuyahoga Valley, located between Cleveland and Akron, Ohio, ranked 10th in popularity.

“We’re really just marketing the Island Explorer the best we can and notifying people,” Kelly said.

Jacqueline Weaver

Jacqueline Weaver

Reporter at The Ellsworth American
Jacqueline's beat covers the eastern Hancock County towns of Lamoine through Gouldsboro as well as Steuben in Washington County. She was a reporter for the New York Times, United Press International and Reuters before moving to Maine. She also publicized medical research at Yale School of Medicine and scientific findings at Yale University for nine years.[email protected]