We’ve arrived at the busiest weeks of the year in Acadia National Park and surrounding communities. The park reported 35,000 visits on Friday, July 5. That’s more than the population of Bangor. One cruise ship was here that day, one with a passenger capacity of 1,432 souls.
While it’s still small potatoes compared with larger urban areas, the number of people and vehicles here on the July Fourth holiday weekend garnered a lot of attention, including an editorial cartoon in the Bangor Daily News.
The problem of congestion is going to require responses at many levels. At each level, identifying solutions will require avoiding the temptation to overreact and overcorrect.
There are certainly things individuals can do. Park staff encourage visitors to “always visit Acadia with a back-up plan.” Many motorists seem to think squeezing one more vehicle into an already-full parking area won’t do any harm. It does. “If a parking lot is full when you arrive,” rangers urge on Acadia’s website, “choose a new destination, try again at another time of day, or use a different form of transportation.”
The park’s transportation plan is another level of response. The planned new reservation system was carefully put together and vetted to reduce single-vehicle traffic and make better use of less-busy areas and times of day. The metaphor of planning ahead to make reservations at a favorite restaurant remains apt. It’s just not possible to squeeze more diners in than can be served.
Through the Acadia Advisory Commission, League of Towns and other groups, the park and neighboring towns must continue to extend that planning and those tough decisions into relevant municipal actions on the twin challenges of transportation and housing.
The park has already begun discussions about employee housing, for its own employees and those working for other seasonal businesses. Employee housing, year-round housing and guest accommodations are now all connected issues. Marketing efforts promoting Maine, Acadia and Bar Harbor continue to be successful in increasing demand for accommodations and services. Perhaps it was hoped that, with a limited supply of campsites and rooms in hotels and B&Bs, that increased demand would drive up the price of those services. Perhaps it has. But certainly the supply has also increased, with the continued growth of vacation rentals, and that means more room for more visitors.
The towns and state will continue to wrestle with whether and how to impose limits on vacation rentals. For the moment, businesses benefiting from proximity to Acadia can consider how they can be part of the solution. Help educate visitors about best practices. Consider donating a portion of proceeds to support the park. And avoid throwing blame; it’s going to take all of us to make this work better