Senate panel holds hearing on congestion in national parks

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Kevin Schneider, superintendent at Acadia National Park, told the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on National Parks on Wednesday that he is “very pleased” with how the timed-entry reservation system for the summit of Cadillac Mountain, which went into effect in late May, is working. 

He spoke remotely at the subcommittee’s hearing on overcrowding and congestion in the national parks. Maine Sen. Angus King, who chairs the subcommittee, asked Schneider about the effectiveness of the Cadillac reservation system so far. 

In response, Schneider cited an encounter he had with a visitor at the summit at sunrise on the first day of the reservation system. 

“He came up to me and said he had been there a week prior to watch the sunrise and it was a complete mess,” Schneider said. “He said there were cars everywhere, cars double parked. He said this is so much better with the reservation system. And we are hearing that sentiment from visitor reviews online.” 

On Tuesday, King held a conference call with a few reporters to talk about the issue of park congestion. 

“Many national parks are having record visitation this year, which leads to issues of congestion and strain on park staff,” he said. “That’s what this hearing is about. It’s to talk about strategy as we move toward greater and greater visitation in the national parks and how we maintain the experience for visitors while providing access to as many people as possible.” 

The Islander asked King if some of the most popular national parks are in danger of being loved to death. 

“(The visitor experience) loses something if you go to Yosemite and end up in an hour-long traffic jam,” he said, adding that he personally has been in traffic jams in Yosemite and Acadia this year. 

“Tempers get short; people can’t find parking places. That’s the kind of thing we need to sort out. I think we’re going to have to think creatively so that we don’t love our parks to death.” 

King said a related issue is maintaining adequate staffing levels in the national parks. 

“If we’re going to have more people visiting the parks, we’ve got to have more staff to deal with them in order to maintain the experience,” he said.  

He noted that Yellowstone, America’s first national park, has seen visitation nearly double over the past 20 years, but the number of park staff has not increased. He said the parks need more funding to cover operating costs. 

A reporter asked if he would favor raising the price of annual park passes. 

“I would hate to do that because then you are making it harder for working people and people who don’t have a great deal of additional disposable income,” he said. “The parks are supposed to be for everyone, and the admission fee should not be a barrier.” 

But King said he thought the national parks could do a better job of collecting entrance fees. 

“Collecting the fees at a lot of parks is not as efficient as it might be,” he said. “I know this has been true in the past in Acadia. I’ve been pushing for about five years for park fees to be online, so that people use an app and are sure to pay the fee.  

“I also think we’re leaving a fair amount of money on the table because of an inefficient collection process where some entrances to the park have a toll gate, if you will, and others don’t.” 

King said the main purpose of Wednesday’s hearing was for senators and their staffs to gather information, not to come up with solutions. 

Those providing prepared testimony at the hearing were a regional director of the National Park Service, an official of the National Parks Conservation Association and the executive director of the Whitefish, Montana, Chamber of Commerce. Whitefish is a gateway to Glacier National Park. 

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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