A sense of arrival

Officials in Acadia National Park have begun a series of meetings seeking public opinion on various issues, as they begin crafting a formal transportation plan.

The problems faced by the park are formidable. Those include congestion on narrow sections of the Park Loop Road, the challenge of directing visitors to less visited sections of the park, such as Schoodic Peninsula, and the overwhelming number of large tour buses that seek to park on the top of Cadillac Mountain at the same time cruise ships visit Bar Harbor.

Regardless of whatever solutions are developed, they will involve major shifts in established use patterns.

In the park’s general management plan, adopted in 1992, reducing congestion was spotlighted as an issue. That plan anticipated a need, eventually, to eliminate right lane parking on one-way sections of the loop road “if an alternative transportation system is successfully established.” That has happened, of course, with the obvious success of the Island Explorer Shuttle Bus system.

That earlier management plan also recommended a new visitor hub. The plan for a hub in Trenton, however, may prove to be an uphill battle from a human nature perspective.

Should parking be banned in the right-hand lane, visitors, especially day users, may have no option but to park in Trenton and ride the buses. But most parks also put a priority on generating a strong “sense of arrival,” when locating visitor centers.

The definition of what that means was recently included in planning documents for Yosemite National Park. The name “Acadia” easily could be substituted.

It states: “Sense of arrival is an emotional and mental state that accompanies the end of a visitor’s travels and the beginning of their park experience. For many visitors, arrival in Yosemite marks the end of a considerable journey involving both lengthy planning and travel. For some, a sense of arrival is created by the clear opportunity to park their car, learn about and plan activities in the park and begin their exploration of the park with the assistance of exhibits, signs, guidebooks, trails, shuttle buses, etc. For others, this sense of arrival begins with the first sight of Yosemite icons, Tunnel View, El Capitan, Half Dome. For returning visitors, this sense of arrival may occur as they check into their campsite, cabin or lodging room.”

A question that needs to be answered as part of the transportation planning is whether a parking lot in Trenton, some nine miles from Acadia, will engender that sense of arrival. Day visitors undoubtedly also will be concerned about being two long bus rides away, there and back, should a jacket, sunglasses or medication be forgotten.

Policies that force visitors to park in Trenton also need to take into account the fact that the park may be only one of several destinations on Mount Desert Island, for many day visitors.

As a good neighbor, the park should consider how tightening its parking policies may affect traffic and congestion in island towns as visitors try to find parking closer to where they want to be.

Any transportation plan should study where a typical day user goes, not just their travels within the park.

Finally, the park should consider a tapered congestion response, depending on time of year. Prohibiting peak season parking in the right lane may make sense. But peak season is only a fraction of the year. Allowing greater latitude during the spring and fall might help shift visitation patterns, thus complementing the local business community’s desire to strengthen the shoulder seasons without the need for additional infrastructure, neither in the park nor in surrounding towns.

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