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Environment and Outdoors

Acadia's vehicle reservation system will stay after last year's visitors, traffic hit new records

Acadia Overcrowding
Robert F. Bukaty/AP
/
AP
In July 31, 2018, visitors to Maine's Acadia National Park gather to watch the sunrise on top of Cadillac Mountain. The park said it will again use a vehicle reservation system in 2022 to manage an ever-growing number of visitors.

Officials at Acadia National Park say the new vehicle reservation system reduced traffic and helped prevent overcrowding in the parking lots last year, when a record 4 million people visited the park.

Park management assistant John Kelly says that system will stay in place for 2022.

"We will essentially run it the same way. We found that it was successful. It did what it was supposed to do," John Kelly, a park management assistant, told the Acadia National Park Advisory Commission at a virtual public meeting Monday. "It was the only place we could guarantee that you would have a parking space or an easy time finding a parking space in the park."

Kelly said the park will try to improve the technology behind the online reservation system itself, and it may adjust the timed entry periods for visitors.

The park sold 85% of available spots through its vehicle reservation system, which ran from the end of May through mid-October last year.

About 28% of visitors tried to enter the park without a reservation last year, a number officials hope will decline as more people become accustomed to securing a parking spot in advance.

Still, the park saw about 600 more cars on the road each day in 2021. Park officials say reduced bus service due to the pandemic was partly to blame.

"We had record high visitation but then record low use of Island Explorer and other buses, which is definitely a trend that we don't want to see," Adam Gibson, a social scientist for the park, said. "In 2021 there were about 90,000 more vehicles on the road than there normally would have been if we had had Island Explorer operating normally and buses in general, like commercial charter buses, operating normally as well."

Normal bus service is expected to return this year. The park wants to expand the number of buses to the Island Explorer fleet over the next five years, which officials see as a way to improve visitor experience.

More than 4 million people visited Acadia last year. The park set records for the number of visitors each month between October 2020 and November 2021.