Visitors to Acadia National Park who want to drive to the summit of Cadillac Mountain or park at the Jordan Pond House to enjoy some popovers may need to make reservations in the future. The park released a draft transportation plan Friday designed to ease congestion and enhance visitors' experience, as the number of annual visitors to the park has increased by a million over the past decade.
Acadia is within one day's drive of 80 million people and because of that there are consequences. The park's easy accessibility and dramatic coastal scenery is creating bottlenecks in some of the most popular spots – like the summit of Cadillac Mountain. David MacDonald of Friends of Acadia says a few years ago, the summit had to be closed to cars a handful of times because of congestion. Last year, it was closed more than 60 times.
"Having 3.5 million visits, which we did last year, everyone coming in their own car, it doesn't work," says MacDonald.
That is why the park has released a draft transportation plan designed to reduce car congestion.
"This is a good problem to have,” says Kevin Schneider, superintendent of Acadia. "We're happy that people love America's parks, and Acadia in particular, but we want to be able to ensure that we provide a really high quality experience for them when they come. And then we also need to make sure we protect what makes this place so special."
To do that, Acadia is proposing a new plan to require visitors with cars to make reservations for hot spots like Cadillac Mountain, the Jordan Pond House and Sand Beach. MacDonald says the notion of having to make a reservation may offend some people, “but to a lot of other people who do that when they go to a restaurant or they go to a ball game, they say, 'Sure, that's not an inconvenience to me. I'd rather know that I can get in there.' So, some other parks are trying these strategies.”
The draft plan also details expanded bus service in the park and improvements to real time information on parking and traffic. The plan also calls for construction of new parking lots and phasing out some shoulder parking on roads to make Acadia more bicycle friendly.
The plan offers a range of options for how to implement the strategies over time. It has been in the making for several years and has involved community input.
Longtime Bar Harbor resident and the owner of several gift shops, David Woodside, says he thinks the plan is a step in the right direction, but does have some reservations.
"I think the devil is always in the details,” he says. “In the way it's disseminated and enforced and communicated to the visitors on the island."
Visitors should know, Woodside says, that Acadia is still here for them, just in a slightly different package.
Another Bar Harbor business owner, Nina St. Germaine, says she also thinks it is time for Acadia to manage capacity. But she hopes that the final plan will also take into consideration any downstream effects it may cause.
"In Bar Harbor we have issues with parking in the high season,” she says. “And now if fewer cars park in the park, that means there will be more in town."
Schneider says if a proposed new park and ride service and visitors' center is adopted in the final plan, that would likely prevent overflow congestion in Bar Harbor.
The public has 60 days to comment on the proposal, and the park will hold several informational meetings. A final plan is expected this fall, but Schneider says any significant changes likely won't be implemented till 2020.