Acadia National Park is planning one more public engagement session on its draft plan to relieve traffic congestion in the park, following some tense Acadia traffic near Jordan Pond on Sunday.
The 215-page draft transportation plan, which was released on April 26, proposes to create seasonal vehicle reservation systems for an additional fee at Cadillac Summit Road, the Ocean Drive corridor and Jordan Pond area to better manage traffic.
After holding five information sessions in May, the National Park Service is offering a live webinar from 7 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, June 13 on the draft transportation plan, which proposes the reservation system as its centerpiece.
Christie Denzel Anastasia, public affairs specialist for Acadia National Park, said it’s been great to receive input from people at the sessions that came after the release of the draft transportation plan. She said it has been a fantastic process.
Acadia traffic problems draw many proposed solutions
“People are coming with a wide diversity of ideas and opinions about what should happen,” she said in a phone interview.
The park is planning to release a final Environmental Impact Statement by the end of this year. That document would include the park’s final decision, which could be a hybrid of its preferred alternative, which includes the reservation system, and aspects of two other alternatives in the draft.
A final transportation plan is planned to be implemented in 2020, Anastasia said.
More evidence of the need for a new transportation plan came on Sunday at Jordan Pond when scores of motorists violated park rules by parking along the two-way section of the Park Loop Road because the lots at Jordan Pond were full including the small one managed by a concessionaire at the popular restaurant and the big north lot managed by the park.
Cars parked along the loop road from Jordan Pond to the Bubble Pond parking area.
In an email, Anastasia said the two-way road became a “single lane from Jordan Pond to Bubble Pond” in the afternoon.
At one point on Sunday afternoon, Darren Belskis, supervisory park ranger, stood outside the Jordan Pond House, the only restaurant inside the park, and told motorists that they could not park on the road.
“Guys, you need to move,” he told people as they parked in front of him. “No roadside parking.”
Holiday and lack of fare-free shuttle contribute to Acadia traffic
The Acadia traffic tie-ups came on a sunny day on the busy Memorial Day Weekend and also before the start of the fare-free Island Explorer shuttle buses on Mount Desert Island. The buses, which offer free rides to hiking trails, beaches and other stops, start in late June on MDI each year but the draft transportation plan says the reservation system could help raise money to finance expanded service. The service begins June 23 this year on MDI, and has already begun in the Schoodic section of the park. Users of the shuttle need to pay for a park pass, even if the ride is fare-free.
Anastasia said there were no Cadillac Summit closures Memorial Day weekend or serious traffic problems there. In 2017, the summit road was closed temporarily about 70 times to incoming traffic because of traffic congestion.
According to the park, parking on the two-way section of the Park Loop Road is limited to parking lots and paved and established gravel pull-outs.
The park’s live webinar on June 13 is open to the first 100 people that register and will include a formal presentation describing the plan and possible management strategies, followed by a question and answer session.
On May 22 and 23, seventy-one people attended two open houses at public schools on Mount Desert Island and the Schoodic Peninsula, according to Anastasia. Park employees have compiled “flip charts” of comments of people provided at those meetings.
Also, on May 14, 15 and 16, a total of 108 people attended three informational sessions held at local libraries in Southwest Harbor, Northeast Harbor and Bar Harbor.
The three library sessions were all taped and can be viewed online on the Friends of Acadia Facebook page. The three sessions have already been viewed nearly 4,000 times according to Friends of Acadia’s Facebook page.
“We are still listening and we are only half way through the comment period,” Anastasia said last week.
Public comment period for draft transportation plan ends June 26
The 60-day comment period on the draft transportation plan ends on June 26. Comments can be submitted in writing or online at go.nps.gov/AcadiaPlan at the “open for comment” link.
Kevin Schneider, superintendent of Acadia National Park, will also provide an update on the transportation plan during a meeting of the Acadia National Park Advisory Commission from 1 to 3 p.m. Monday at park headquarters, located at 20 McFarland Hill Drive in Bar Harbor. The meeting is open to the public and will include an opportunity for public comments.
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 that is currently allowed 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.
In its preferred alternative, vehicle reservations for an additional fee would be established for Cadillac Summit Road, the Ocean Drive corridor and the north lot of the Jordan Pond House from about mid-May to mid-October.
Park leaders stress that their preferred alternative is preliminary and could be changed. They are also calling for 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.
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.