Acadia National Park officials are backing a proposal to require parking reservations along the Park Loop Road’s busiest stretch, atop Cadillac Mountain and at Jordan Pond House to address growing congestion problems during peak summer months.

Visitation figures for Acadia National Park have surged nearly 60 percent in a decade, straining the capacity of Acadia’s aging road network and leading to severe crowding at the most popular park attractions. In response, the National Park Service is developing a long-term transportation plan aimed at better managing the crush of cars, buses and cyclists during peak tourism season.

A draft of the transportation plan released Friday contains four options ranging from the status quo – or no major changes – to instituting one of several parking reservation proposals. The park service is soliciting public feedback on the proposals, noting that nothing is “set in stone” and that the plan is not expected to be finalized until this fall.

Under the National Park Service’s preferred option, Acadia officials would create a timed-entry reservation system for visitors to popular spots.

The reservation system would give visitors a specific time window to enter the parking areas on top of Cadillac Mountain, at Jordan Pond House and along Park Loop Road/Ocean Drive between the Sand Beach entrance station and Fabbri Picnic Area.

There would be no time limit for how long visitors can stay in those locations, however. The park service’s preferred alternative is identified as Alternative C in the draft report, which is available here.

Under Alternative B, visitors would need parking reservations for Cadillac Mountain, Jordan Pond, Sand Beach, Thunder Hole and Sieur de Monts but would also be required to exit the parking lots by a certain time. Alternative D proposes consolidating entrance points and instituting a timed-entry system for accessing all of Park Loop Road. Parking would be first-come, first-served but there would be no time limits on visitors.

In all three scenarios, a percentage of the reservations would be set aside for short-term or potentially same-day purchase. Additionally, public transit via the Island Explorer bus/shuttle service would be expanded within the park – and offered for a longer season – under all three scenarios in order to accommodate visitors unable to obtain parking reservations.

The National Park Service is accepting public comments on the draft transportation plan through June 26th and will hold several open house events.

“The Draft Transportation Plan creates a blueprint for our future so we can continue to provide high quality experiences for our visitors while protecting the fundamental qualities that make Acadia so special,” Acadia National Park Superintendent Kevin Schneider said in a statement. “While we have identified a preferred alternative as a focal point to encourage public comments, it is not set in stone. We welcome feedback on the Draft Transportation Plan, particularly new information and new ideas.”

Park officials floated several options for congestion solutions – including parking reservations – last fall as “conversation starters.” Initial feedback from those ideas were then used to develop the draft plan released Friday.

Friends of Acadia, a nonprofit organization involved in philanthropy to support the park as well as efforts to enhance visitors’ experience, said “the status quo is no longer a viable option.” President and CEO David MacDonald said his organization needs to review the 242-page plan in more detail but that he was “encouraged by the fundamental direction of the park’s preferred alternative.”

“Providing more options for visitors to pre-plan their visits, better real-time information about parking and traffic in the park, the opportunity to take advantage of expanded park-and-ride facilities, and utilize an increased Island Explorer bus service, all make good sense,” MacDonald said. “The concept of reservations for the busiest parts of the park at peak times is worth exploring, as other national parks are doing. FOA looks forward to partnering with the park and surrounding communities to help pursue sensible solutions.”

The National Park Service reported 3.5 million “recreation visitors” to Acadia last year, ranking the park seventh nationally just behind Yosemite and Yellowstone national parks. That is 1 million more visitors to Acadia than in 2014.

In recent years, park rangers have begun occasionally restricting vehicle traffic up Cadillac Mountain due to a lack of parking on top. Similarly, traffic sometimes backs up along Park Loop Road in the areas of Sand Beach and Thunder Hole on busy summer days. And limited parking at entrance points to popular carriage roads or trails regularly leads to cars parked alongside busy roads such as Routes 3 and 233.

Under the “preferred alternative” supported by the National Park Service, roadside parking would be eliminated near the Eagle Lake and Acadia Mountain trailheads and replaced with new, off-road parking areas. The visitor area in Hulls Cove would also be redesigned with expanded parking, providing visitors with an additional park-and-ride option.

David Woodside, president and CEO of the Acadia Corp. that operated the Jordan Pond House restaurant and store until 2013, said “the parking situation had become very difficult” in the final years of the contract and seemingly worsened since then. A Mount Desert Island resident for more than 40 years, Woodside said any parking reservation system would have to be carefully managed to ensure no-shows do not end up in empty parking spots.

“There is a need to so something during the peak season,” said Woodsome, whose Acadia Corp. still operates more than a half-dozen retail stores around the island. “While no one ever enjoys having their mobility limited in any fashion, I think it’s good to take proactive steps to try to get a handle on the situation.”

Woodside said he believes Schneider and other Acadia staff will implement the final transportation plan over time to avoid shocking the public with sudden, drastic changes.

“But it definitely will be an adjustment,” Woodside said.

Last year, the Trump administration drew strong criticism from Maine and across the country for a proposal to nearly triple the entrance fees – from $25 to $70 – at Acadia and 16 other popular parks. The Park Service appears to be backing away from that plan in response to the backlash, with a spokesman saying earlier this month that officials have “taken the public’s suggestions seriously and have amended the plan to reflect those” comments.

But the agency still faces an estimated $11 billion maintenance backlog at parks nationwide. Acadia has $71 million in deferred maintenance projects, according to the park service.

 

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