Car reservation system among dramatic proposals to control Acadia traffic

Acadia National Park is proposing some dramatic changes to manage a sharp increase in visitors, including establishing vehicle reservations at an additional fee for Cadillac Summit Road, the Ocean Drive corridor and the north lot of the Jordan Pond House from about mid-May to mid-October.

acadia traffic

Draft transportation plan available for public comment until June 26. (NPS image)

In the 215-page draft environmental impact statement for a new Acadia traffic and transportation plan, the park is also proposing to eventually phase out right-lane parking on some one-way sections of Park Loop Road and to build new parking areas at Eagle Lake and Acadia Mountain with new trail connections.

While emphasizing that the sweeping proposals are preliminary and open to change, Acadia leaders, in the plan, are also pushing a comprehensive redesign and parking expansion of the visitor center and other infrastructure at Hulls Cove partly to encourage more parking there and use of the Island Explorer buses.

The park is advocating the proposals in its “preferred alternative” in the draft plan. The plan also spells out two other alternatives and a “no action” option for transportation management in the park.

The draft plan says the number of parking spaces along Park Loop Road and elsewhere in the park are not enough to meet demand. The park drew 3.5 million visitors last year and Cadillac Summit Road was closed at least 49 times because of heavy traffic congestion.

acadia traffic

Summary graphic outlines the park’s preferred alternative for managing Acadia traffic (NPS image)

In a letter to introduce the draft plan, Kevin B. Schneider, superintendent of Acadia National Park, wrote that visitation at the park increased by 59 percent over the last 10 years, drawing more and more Acadia traffic.

“The draft transportation plan is an important milestone in creating a shared vision for enhancing visitor experience, managing congestion, protecting natural resources and improving safety in Acadia National Park,” Schneider wrote. “The draft transportation plan is critical so that Acadia can continue to provide a high quality experience for park visitors.”

The release of the draft plan marks the first time the park is spelling out its preferred plan for dealing with increased Acadia traffic and crowds.

A final plan is scheduled to be released in the fall of 2018.

A 60-day comment period on the draft will be between April 26 and June 26. Comments can be submitted in writing or online at go.nps.gov/AcadiaPlan at the “open for comment” link.

Public meetings to be announced on draft Acadia traffic plan

The National Park Service will also be announcing dates for open meetings on Mount Desert Island and the Schoodic Peninsula to present the plan and receive feedback. The park service will also host a Facebook live meeting.

acadia traffic

No more U-turns near the top of Cadillac under a proposed timed-entry system. (NPS photo)

The draft plan contains some ideas for dramatic changes at the 35,000-acre national park.

For example, the park is proposing that the existing parking lot and restroom on the north side of ME 233 at Eagle Lake be removed and replaced with a new, 125-space parking lot south of the highway at an NPS maintenance two-acre storage yard known as Liscomb Pit.

Visitor services at the Thompson Island Information Center, located on the west side of ME 3,
would be removed and the area restored to natural conditions. Services would be relocated to the Acadia Gateway Center in Trenton.

Management of Acadia traffic on the Park Loop Road would see some drastic revisions.

Right lane parking along Park Loop Road would be retained in the near term but eventually phased out as other options and parking become available, the draft said.

acadia traffic

Fewer traffic jams is the aim of the proposed Acadia transportation plan. (NPS photo)

Parking-related traffic congestion on Park Loop Road would be managed through
establishing a timed-entry vehicle reservation system for the Ocean Drive corridor between the Sand Beach Entrance Station and the Fabbri picnic area, Cadillac Summit Road, and the Jordan Pond House North Lot. The Jordan Pond House South Lot would continue to be managed under the existing concession agreement.

Under the preferred alternative, private vehicles would continue to be able to travel the entire Park Loop Road, not including the Ocean Drive corridor, as they do under the no-action alternative. Reservations for private vehicles would be needed to park at Jordan Pond House, for vehicle access to Cadillac Summit Road, or to proceed past the Sand Beach Entrance Station to the Ocean Drive corridor, according to the draft plan.

Timed entry for vehicles proposed up Cadillac, along Ocean Drive

The timed-entry system would provide reservation holders with a specific window during which their vehicle would be permitted to enter the corridor or parking lot. Once inside the corridor or parking lot, there would be no restrictions on length of stay. The length of the initial entry window may be extended or reduced as park managers work to optimize the reservation system, but it is estimated that initial timed-entry windows would be in 15-
minute to 2-hour time blocks.

crowds in acadia

Crowds in Acadia can make for an unpleasant experience as seen here on the Park Loop Road and Ocean Path. (NPS photo)

Reservations would be required starting as early as 4 a.m. on Cadillac Mountain and Ocean
Drive Corridor and 7 a.m. at the Jordan Pond House North Lot. Reservations for all three
areas would be required for entry as late as 9 p.m. These hours would be lengthened or
shortened as necessary corresponding with shifting visitation patterns to protect a high-quality visitor experience and limit Acadia traffic, according to the plan.

Reservations would most likely include a less than $10 fee to cover the cost of operating the system, monitoring traffic and supporting alternative transportation options such as the Island Explorer. This fee would be on top of the visitor pass. The reservations and increased fee are not proposed for many areas of the park. Visitors would still be able to access the park in a variety of ways that would not include the additional fee.

At the Hulls Cove Visitor Center, the plan calls for approximately 200 to 250 additional parking spaces, in addition to the current capacity of 270.

The new parking capacity at Hulls Cove would be intended to provide visitors without reservations a place to park and transfer to alternate transportation systems in the park, the plan said.

In addition to expanded parking, a new visitor center, approximately triple the size of the existing one, would be built at grade with the parking lot for improved universal access. The existing visitor center building would either be repurposed or removed and the area re-vegetated, according to the plan.

Roadside parking is creating unsafe conditions at the Eagle Lake carriage road entrance on ME 233 and at ME 102 at the Acadia Mountain trailhead, the plan said.

At the Acadia Mountain site, the park would work with local governments, the Maine Department of Transportation, and others to identify an alternative, off-highway option for trailhead parking. Once the alternative parking area is constructed, park managers would work with the state to put in place and enforce no-parking restrictions along the shoulder as well as to re-vegetate areas.

Dolores Kong & Dan Ring

About Dolores Kong & Dan Ring

Dolores Kong and Dan Ring are co-authors of the Falcon guides Hiking Acadia National Park and Best Easy Day Hikes Acadia National Park, and also blog at acadiaonmymind.com. They’ve backpacked the 270-plus miles of the Appalachian Trail in Maine, and are members of the Northeast 111 Club, having hiked all major peaks of the Northeast. Dolores is a former staff reporter at The Boston Globe. Dan is a journalist and former Statehouse bureau chief in Boston for the old Ottaway News Service and for The Republican, the daily newspaper for Springfield, Mass. They are married and live outside Boston.