BAR HARBOR — A new ferry service between Bar Harbor and Winter Harbor is being planned by Kaitlyn Mullen, a captain and naturalist with Acadian Nature Cruises (ANC). She is being joined in that effort by ANC owner Gary Fagan and another area resident, Whitey Carpenter.
They have formed a nonprofit company called Frenchman Bay Research Boating to both conduct marine research and provide daily passenger ferry service across the bay.
Mullen said she began thinking about starting a new ferry after reading a story in the Islander last February in which Acadia National Park officials expressed a desire to offer more than the current ferry service operated by Downeast Windjammer Cruises.
Park Superintendent Sheridan Steele was quoted as calling that ferry service “pretty limited.”
He noted that the new Schoodic Woods Campground, which opened Sept. 1 after a delay of several months, was likely to increase ridership on both the ferry and the Island Explorer bus system’s Schoodic route. He said an expanded ferry service would “benefit campers who might want to come to MDI for the day or people on MDI who may want to go to Schoodic to bike, ride or hike over there for the day.”
Steele also said an improved ferry service would benefit the Schoodic Institute and programs at the Schoodic Education and Research Center.
The driving distance between Bar Harbor and Winter Harbor is 43 miles, but it can take an hour and a half or longer in the summer.
“The hope is to have a way to travel by water between Schoodic and Bar Harbor that expands the capacity of the boat and the frequency of service and makes it more affordable,” Acadia management specialist John Kelly said last winter.
Acadia is not affiliated in any way with either the existing or proposed ferry operation. Kelly said Tuesday that the park cannot endorse or favor any private ferry service over another.
“We’re happy to see any opportunities for connecting Schoodic and MDI,” he said.
The existing ferry service has been making four daily round trips from late June to mid-September. The vessel that was used this summer can carry up to 49 passengers.
Ferry owner Steve Pagels said Tuesday that there were only a couple of times this summer when there was not enough room for everyone. He said he has a 150-passenger vessel that he could use as the ferry if needed, and he could increase the number of daily round trips. He said he also is likely to move the start date next year from June 23 to Memorial Day weekend.
Mullen said that, assuming that her proposed new ferry service starts with one vessel, it would make between five and eight round trips a day.
“Our hope is to eventually have two vessels, so that you could catch a ferry at a minimum every hour from either side,” she said.
As is the case with the current ferry, the proposed new service would coordinate with the Island Explorer bus schedule on the Schoodic route. Passengers getting off the ferry in Winter Harbor can ride the bus around the Schoodic section of Acadia, with scheduled stops at Schoodic Point and the campground.
In addition to the daytime crossings, Mullen said the plan is to make an extra trip at least two nights a week in July and August.
“Folks will be able to leave from Winter Harbor, come over to Bar Harbor to see a movie or maybe catch the early Improv show, and then go back to Winter Harbor,” she said.
She said the fares have not been finalized. “But our sincere hope is to keep it under $100 for a family of four and their bicycles for a round trip.”
The existing ferry service’s round-trip fares for the 2015 summer season were $32 for adults, $22 for children and $7 for bikes. It also offers lower-priced commuter fares for frequent passengers.
Mullen said the new ferry service would do so, as well.
She said she and her partners are looking to buy a vessel that can carry up to 49 passengers and 20 bikes.
“We’ve been looking at boats from about 50 to 58 feet,” she said. “We would really like to stay under 60 feet because of the size of the dock in Winter Harbor.”
She said a docking location in Bar Harbor is “semi nailed down.”
The boats that Mullen and her partners are looking at cost in the $90,000 to $115,000 price range. They have launched a campaign to raise $27,500 for a down payment on the crowd-funding web site Crowdrise.
As for the research component of the enterprise, Mullen said the ferry would serve as a platform for collecting baseline data in support of oceanographic assessments in Frenchman Bay. She said she and others involved in Frenchman Bay Research Boating have experience in collecting data for various types of research, including water quality and pollution assessments, toxicology analysis and species abundance and distribution studies.
Mullen said they are looking to partner on various types of research projects with area institutions including Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory, College of the Atlantic and the University of Maine.
Mullen is a graduate of the university’s marine science and ocean engineering programs. She has worked as a research associate with Allied Whale at College of the Atlantic.
Mullen said Frenchman Bay Research Boating has applied for federal 501(c)3 tax-exempt status and already has been approved by the state of Maine as a tax-exempt nonprofit corporation.
Pagels, who owns and operates the existing ferry, said he started the Bar Harbor to Winter Harbor ferry more than 10 years ago, when no one else was doing it. He said he has worked hard to make a go of it.
“We’ve paved the way, and then to have someone say they’re going to set up a nonprofit and get money handed to them and go and compete against a business, I think there’s a problem with that,” he said. “As for whether there are legal problems with it, that would have to be explored.”
Pagels said he is surprised that Fagan, the owner of Acadian Nature Cruises, is involved in the nonprofit ferry enterprise.
“You’re in business, and then you’re going to go set up a nonprofit to put me out of business?” he said. “I’m disappointed because we try to be helpful with all the boating companies, and most of them are very helpful with us.”