Traffic congestion forced the closure of the summit road to Cadillac Mountain 58 times in 2019 and the road to Bass Harbor Head Light 32 times, spotlighting the need for a reservation system to park at certain popular attractions in Acadia National Park.
The reservation system is tentatively planned to start in 2021.
According to Christie Denzel Anastasia, public affairs specialist at Acadia, 2019 was also the first year to see closures related to Acadia traffic at places such as the entrance to Sieur de Monts, the Route 233 entrance to Cadillac Mountain, Schooner Head Road and the entrance to the Hulls Cove Visitor Center, which was closed five times.
Overall, traffic tie-ups prompted 105 closures in 2019 including three times apiece at Ocean Drive and Sieur de Monts and once each at Echo Lake Road and the Jordan Pond North Lot.
Road to Bass Harbor Head Light closed record number of times
The 0.5 mile Lighthouse Road, which leads to the parking lot of Bass Harbor Head Light, was closed for Acadia traffic far more frequently in 2019, after being closed six times in 2018. This year, the Town of Tremont and the National Park Service cooperated to close their respective sections of the road to roadside parking to help alleviate traffic congestion.
The Cadillac summit road was closed about 70 times in 2017 and 54 times in 2018 for Acadia traffic, but Anastasia stated that it is not entirely accurate to compare one year’s closures to another because Cadillac is not closed every time it needs to be closed.
The closures came during another sometimes-hectic summer season. July 5 was the busiest day in the history of Acadia National Park with visits exceeding 35,000 for the day, according to Adam Gibson, social scientist for the park. On that memorable day, rangers put into effect near constant closures of roads and parking lots due to Acadia traffic while also working on rescues stemming from a string of hiking accidents.
Cadillac summit road was closed for two hours and seven minutes during sunset on July 4 and Ocean Drive was shut for two hours and twenty-three minutes on July 5.
While Acadia set a single day record for visits, the number of annual visits to the National Park is set to be a little shy of the record 3.509 million in 2017.
Through November, the park logged 3.424 million visits for 2019.
Even though it rained a lot, October of 2019 was the second busiest October on record, drawing 436,194 visits, short of the 507,595 in October of 2017.
On Sunday, Oct. 13 of the Indigenous Peoples’ Day weekend in Maine, Ocean Drive experienced six hours of more than 350 cars per hour at the Sand Beach entrance station and Cadillac sunrise traffic rose to over 500 vehicles in one hour, according to Anastasia. The Jordan Pond North Lot was also closed that day because of Acadia traffic.
New transportation plan could reduce Acadia traffic congestion
The National Park Service is hopeful that a new transportation plan will resolve some of the struggles with traffic and overflowing lots.
The NPS in March released a final transportation plan including approval of a timed reservation system at a fee of likely less than $10 for cars on Cadillac Mountain, the north lot of Jordan Pond and the Ocean Drive corridor.
Under a timed reservation system, drivers would get a window of time to park a vehicle, but those vehicles would not have to leave at any particular time.
The reservation portion of the transportation plan is projected to begin in 2021. “We are planning to have a reservation system in place by 2021, but this is still tentative,” Anastasia wrote in an email.
That means 2020 could be the last year the summit road is shut down due to traffic congestion, though closures could still stem from vehicle accidents and unsafe conditions.
“The purpose of the reservation system is to allocate parking spaces according to capacity and prevent the need to close the road due to congestion,” Anastasia wrote.
Reservation system may phase in
It’s possible a reservation system could be established in phases, maybe just starting with Cadillac and another site such as Ocean Drive, for example.
“We are developing a strategy to determine the timing and sequencing of implementing the reservation system,” Anastasia wrote. “Phasing in the reservation system is an option.”
The transportation plan also calls for right-lane parking on the Park Loop Road to be retained in the near term but eventually phased out as other options, such as expanded Island Explorer service and additional parking areas at Hulls Cove and the Acadia Gateway Center, become available.
As part of plan, the park is also examining concessions contracts with two tour operators – trolley and bus. The park would continue to allow concession bus tour opportunities for the life of existing contracts, but renewed or new contracts would also be considered, the transportation plan says.
The new year could be one of intense preparation for the transportation plan.
“We are working on implementation strategies for several interrelated aspects of the Transportation Plan, including the reservation system, bus tour concessions, enhanced Island Explorer service, and the development of the Hulls Cove Visitor Center and Acadia Gateway Center,” Anastasia wrote in an email. “While this work has started and will continue into 2020, full implementation of the Transportation Plan will take years.”
Park rangers generally close the summit road to Cadillac when incoming traffic backs up to the Blue Hill Overlook. The majority have occurred at sunrise or sunset.
Closure information is tracked as time and resources are available, and are not exact, Anastasia wrote in an email. There are likely more closures needed than can be attended to by park rangers, she wrote. During a medical emergency, for example, a needed closure may not occur.
Dispatchers log the data on closures on a spreadsheet. In the event of multiple emergencies occurring at the same time, logging the Excel spreadsheet would be among the lowest priority, according to Anastasia.