Acadia National Park is both a national treasure and local economic engine. There were an estimated 3.53 million visits to the park in 2018, setting a visitation record for the third consecutive year. On July 5, the park set an all-time record for a single day, with the number of visitors estimated at more than 35,000. Visitation totaled nearly 3.38 million for the first 10 months of 2019. That represents a slight drop from the previous year, but still, Acadia and surrounding towns are bustling in season.
The question of how much visitation the park can handle, especially at its most popular destinations, has become all the more urgent in recent years. Overcrowding has created safety issues in some instances and generally detracted from the enjoyment of this magnificent natural resource.
To alleviate gridlock and unsafe roadside parking, Acadia officials plan to implement a timed-entry reservation system for private vehicle access to certain locations, including Cadillac Mountain, Ocean Drive and the north parking lot at Jordan Pond. The system is to go into effect in the summer of 2021. Officials may give it a test run on Cadillac and Ocean Drive this fall.
Implementing a new system can have its hiccups, so it’s a smart move to test things in advance. Much like with the implementation of paid parking in downtown Bar Harbor, there’s been some pushback from locals who feel they should have unfettered access to the park. After all, we are the ones who endure the summer traffic. We pay the taxes that keep up the municipal and state roads traveled by oh so many out-of-state tires. Why should we have to make a reservation to play in our own backyard?
It’s worth noting that the many locals whose livelihoods depend either directly or indirectly on the tourism industry pay their taxes with revenue generated by those very visitors. But, more importantly, locals don’t get to skip the line because Acadia is a national park. It belongs to everyone. It’s the same reason why you should buy a park pass. The park, with its backlog of needed projects and transportation challenges, needs our support. Locals, more than anyone, can appreciate Acadia’s beauty and the importance of protecting it. The reservation system will mean no more impromptu car trips up Cadillac in the summer. But, with a little planning, you’ll have a better experience when you get there without having to search fruitless for a parking spot or navigate lines of illegally parked cars.
And, there’s always the bus. Downeast Transportation, which operates the fare-free Island Explorer system, is eyeing expansion. If more people take advantage of this valuable service, it will further alleviate congestion throughout the park.