ACADIA NAT’L PARK — Like many other people who live in communities adjacent to Acadia, Jackie Johnston of Gouldsboro prefers to get out and enjoy the park in the off-season, when there are fewer visitors and traffic isn’t a problem.
But as the new chairman of the Acadia Advisory Commission, she thinks she needs to experience the park at its busiest, especially while Acadia is in the process of developing a long-range transportation plan.
“In order for me to provide the most substantive and informed input in the plan, I need to feel the pain; I need to get out there,” she said in a recent telephone interview. “I plan to start the week of the 4th.
“In addition to just hiking and driving around on my own, I want to go out with [Chief Ranger] Stuart West, because he’s going to know the real problematic areas and problematic times. I want to see it at its worst.”
The transportation planning process, which began last year, is to be completed in 2018. There have been and will continue to be opportunities for public input.
Johnston said the ultimate goal of the transportation plan is to help in “preserving the natural and cultural resources of the park and the visitor experience while managing the increased visitation.”
She noted that this year, in which Acadia is celebrating its centennial, is expected to be another record breaker for park visitation, possibly exceeding three million.
The 16-member Acadia Advisory Commission was created by federal legislation in 1986. Ten members are appointed by the town boards in the park’s neighboring communities. Three are appointed by the governor of Maine and three by the U.S. secretary of the interior. The commission typically meets three times a year; the meetings are open to the public.
“They are a very important forum for the public to hear from park leadership who are briefing the commission on their priorities for the coming months and the challenges they are addressing,” Johnston said.
She said the meetings also are where members of the public can ask questions and express concerns about any aspect of park operations or plans.
The most high-profile issue the Advisory Commission has dealt with in recent years is last year’s expansion of the park’s boundary on the Schoodic Peninsula. The 1,441-acre annexation included the new Schoodic Woods Campground.
The National Park Service announced the boundary extension last fall. No one has publicly opposed adding the property to the park. But many, including local town officials and members of the park’s Advisory Commission, argued that, according to the same 1986 law that created the commission, any expansion of the park boundary requires congressional action.
The Advisory Commission voted unanimously to urge Maine’s congressional delegation to introduce legislation to specifically permit the park’s acquisition of the Schoodic property and, at the same time, to make it clear that any future expansion could occur only with congressional approval.
Advisory Commission members and others have pointed out that the 1986 law establishing the park’s permanent boundary was created largely because residents and officials of area towns worried that Acadia was gobbling up too much property.
Asked if the annexation of the Schoodic property without an act of Congress has set back relations between the park and its neighbors, Johnston said, “I think it’s quite possible that it would resurrect those feelings of mistrust that existed. People worked so hard and successfully to restore credibility to the park service. I think that’s why it’s so important for the issue to be resolved quickly.”
Johnston praised Steve Katona, who has resigned from the Advisory Commission after 19 years as a member, the last 15 years as chairman.
Describing him as “a wonderful leader,” she said he had the ability “to delicately address prickly issues and deal with citizens who may come to the commission very animated. He listened, and they knew they were being listened to.”
Katona is a marine biologist and former president of College of the Atlantic.
Earlier this month, the Acadia Advisory Commission adopted a resolution expressing appreciation for his nearly two decades of service.
“Steve brought to the commission internationally recognized expertise in environmental sciences, a passion for the Maine coast and a deep desire to protect and provide access to Acadia National Park for generations to come,” the resolution read in part.
Johnston is a civilian employee of the U.S. Navy with responsibility for Community Plans & Liaison for naval facilities in New England and northern New York.
“We work to establish relationships outside the fence line of naval facilities so we can address issues that might be encroaching on their mission,” she said. “It’s very similar to what we do on the [Acadia Advisory] Commission.”
Johnston also is the assistant public works officer for USS Constitution in Boston Harbor and 11 Naval Operational Support Centers.