ACADIA NAT’L PARK — If you’ve stayed so long on Bar Island that the only way off – the sand bar to Bar Harbor – is several feet under water, don’t expect a rescue unless it’s a true emergency.
Instead, visitors are being directed by park officials to call Downeast Windjammer Cruises (DWC) for a water taxi. The quarter-mile trip back to town will cost $150.
Bar Island is part of Acadia National Park. It isn’t unusual, especially in the summer, for people to lose track of time and become stranded there by the incoming tide. In the past, they could call the park’s ranger office and, depending on the circumstances, a boat would be sent to pick them up.
“That became an increasing demand on our ability to respond at significant cost in terms of staff and financial resources,” park spokesman John Kelly said.
Last month, the park erected a sign at the end of Bridge Street, on the town’s side of the bar, and another on Bar Island, informing people that “high tide will leave you stranded” and advising them to call DWC if that occurs.
The signs say it might take the water taxi more than an hour to arrive and that it will cost about $150. But a bolt that attaches each sign to its wooden post is located so that it partially obscures the dollar amount.
Kelly said that, even though the signs have just gone up, the park’s water taxi arrangement with DWC was in effect last year.
“We found someone who is nearby and willing and able to provide that service,” he said.
Kelly said the park has no contract or formal agreement with DWC.
“I would describe it as an informal arrangement,” he said.
The new signs at either end of the bar say that if the DWC can’t respond, people stranded on Bar Island can call Acadia’s dispatch office. The phone number is posted.
“If Windjammer Cruises is truly unavailable and there is absolutely no other way for people to get off, we will get to them,” Kelly said.
If someone who is stranded dials 911, the call goes to the Bar Harbor Police Department. The department has a boat, but because of its deep drafting design, it can’t get very close to dry land at the end of the bar.
“But if there is an emergency, we will make arrangements to get to them as quickly as we can,” Police Chief Jim Willis said.
Otherwise, he said, dispatchers will give callers the phone number for DWC.
Even though parking is now prohibited on the bar, people can still drive across, and hundreds more walk to and from Bar Island each day. Each year several vehicles end up being submerged by the incoming tide when drivers have ignored the no parking warning.
“There is a sense that there is more activity on the bar than there has been in the past,” Kelly said. “That comes with increased visitation but also with the town’s new way-finding signage that directs people there.”
On a few occasions in the past, private boat owners have rescued people stranded on Bar Island. That was the case last week when lobster fisherman Steve Burns went to the aid of a group of seven people on the island.