Construction begins on Acadia transit and welcome hub in Trenton
Construction has begun on the site of the much-anticipated welcome center and transit hub for Acadia National Park, the final phase of a 20-year vision to expand bus service around Mount Desert Island.
The Acadia Gateway Center will sit near the park-and-ride in Trenton on Route 3 between Ellsworth and Mount Desert Island. The site was strategically chosen, and approved by Trenton voters, to stem the flow of traffic coming to and from the park.
"We're the fifth-visited national park in the country, and yet we're one of the smallest," Park Superintendent Kevin Schneider said Monday at an event celebrating the start of construction. "It's a lot of people to move into Acadia, and the best way to do that is on this bus."
Visitors will be able to drive and park at the gateway center, buy entrance passes and then catch the free Islander Explorer bus to Acadia or other spots around Mount Desert Island.
The project has been in the works for two decades. It started in 2002 when the non-profit Friends of Acadia purchased the land for what became the Trenton park-and-ride and the home of Downeast Transportation, which runs the Island Explorer.
State and regional officials back then envisioned a sweeping plan to expand bus service and remove cars from the road.
Now, park visitation has smashed records in recent years, and bus ridership has struggled to rebound since the start of the pandemic. At the same time, Acadia officials have added a reservation system in attempt to ease overcrowding at the park's most popular spots.
"How do we make sure that we attract high quality tourism here, without destroying the communities that we cherish? Part of that is getting cars off the road," said Eric Stiles, president and CEO of Friends of Acadia.
Independent Sen. Angus King said he remembers that vision when he was governor. Now that the gateway center is almost a reality, he believes it will eventually become a model for other national parks around the country that are also seeing a surge in visitors and traffic.
"The problem isn't so much people in national parks, it's vehicles," he said Monday. "What we're talking about here is the ability to park your vehicle here, get on the bus and enjoy the national park without having to worry about a parking place and without having to worry about all the pollution that's created and the traffic and the time that that takes.
Once built, the gateway center will have nearly 300 parking spots for cars and another 10 for RVs and buses, state transportation officials said. The parking lot will also have 17 electric vehicle chargers, though Bruce Van Note, commissioner of the Maine Department of Transportation, said they'd like to add more. The building itself will have a geothermal heating and cooling system and solar panels.
Construction will cost $27.7 million and is being financed with federal and state funds, as well as donations from Friends of Acadia.
The new center is expected to open in May 2025.