Acadia National Park rangers in 2018 closed the summit road to Cadillac Mountain to incoming vehicles 54 times because of traffic congestion, possibly accenting the need for a reservation system to park at the peak.
The 54 closures at Cadillac occurred between June 26 and Oct. 24. The closures came as the number of visitors to Acadia in 2018 jumped to 3.52 million through November, exceeding in 11 months the 3.509 million for all of 2017, according to National Park Service statistics.
Christie Denzel Anastasia, public affairs specialist at Acadia National Park, said the park tracks the closures as best as possible and dispatchers record the closures on an Excel spreadsheet, but the numbers may not always be precise.
The summit road to Cadillac was recorded to be closed to incoming Acadia traffic about 70 times in 2017, she said.
“We can safely say that Cadillac Summit Road is the area that regularly experiences congestion, and has for a while,” she said. “But when we are able to close it for safety reasons, we do.”
The length of the closures varies from about 15 to 90 minutes, she said.
Road to Cadillac not the only one closed by Acadia traffic in 2018
The road to the popular Bass Harbor Head Light was also closed six times because of traffic congestion, Anastasia said.
The park also counts the number of vehicles turned away during a closure.
On Sunday, Oct. 14, for example, during the popular fall foliage season, the Cadillac summit road was closed at the entrance for almost an hour in early afternoon and 413 vehicles were turned away, she said.
With an elevation of 1,530-feet, Cadillac is the highest peak on the east coast of the US and attracts a lot of Acadia traffic.
The majority of the closures last year came at sunrise or sunset. Another time period for many closures is roughly from 11 am to 12:30 p.m.
On Sunday, July 8, traffic was so bad that for an hour and 10 minutes, the two-way section of the Park Loop Road was closed at either end from the entrance to Cadillac all the way to the Jordan Pond House.
Twenty-six of the closures on Cadillac were recorded during about a one-month period from the end of July to Aug. 27.
The first closure on June 26 was for an hour and 10 minutes and started at noon.
The closure numbers can be affected by different factors. A dispatcher, for example, could be handling a separate emergency and may not have time to finish the spreadsheet, or there might not be enough law enforcement rangers available to temporarily shut the road when needed, Anastasia said.
The estimated 70 closures in 2017 included 49 times between June 28 and Sept. 4.
Closures for Acadia traffic also occur at Ocean Drive, the parking lot for Sand Beach and the big north lot at Jordan Pond. The large lot for Jordan Pond, which is managed by the park, probably needs to be closed more often, she said, but is more difficult to shut than Cadillac, partly because of access needed to the Jordan Pond House, the park’s only restaurant, which has a concessionaire that manages traffic flow at a smaller lot just outside the eatery.
One of the most chaotic traffic jams at Acadia last year occurred on Sunday before Memorial Day when dozens of motorists broke park rules by parking along the two-way section of the loop road because lots at Jordan Pond were full. Even though the park lines the two-way road with large coping stones that restrict parking, cars parked next to the stones and partly in the road, creating a hazard from Jordan Pond to the Bubble Pond parking area.
The park was expected to release its final Environmental Impact State for the new transportation plan early this year, but work stopped on the plan during the recent 35-day federal shutdown, the longest in US history.
Upon the end of the shutdown, the park’s priority now is hiring 120 to 150 seasonal workers and ramping up operations for the season ahead, she said. Those seasonal employees supplement some 80 to 90 permanent positions at the park.
Transportation plan proposes timed reservation system for Cadillac
On Monday Feb. 4, Acadia National Park Superintendent Kevin Schneider will provide updates on the park’s transportation planning process during a public meeting of the Acadia National Park Advisory Commission, at park headquarters at 20 McFarland Hill Dr. in Bar Harbor, from 1 to 3 p.m. Schneider will also report on the park’s acquisition of Bass Harbor Head Light and a housing initiative for Acadia workers.
The park released a draft 215-page draft transportation plan on April 26. That plan included a “preferred alternative” for a proposed timed reservation system for cars and other private vehicles to enter the peak of Cadillac Mountain, the Jordan Pond lot and along the Ocean Drive corridor of the Park Loop Road.
Park spokeswoman Anastasia said it’s likely that the reservation system, if approved, might be implemented at only one or two of those locations in 2020, partly because of time needed to create an online reservation system.
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.
“If we put something in place and we set sort of a threshold for what is a good visitor experience, and something is not working, we will be flexible to kind of open it up more or tighten it up more, depending on what we need to do to keep the visitor experience and protection of resources high,” she said.
Since 2015, the park has been working closely with the public and stakeholders to devise a plan.
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While I can see the value in prohibiting busses during “peak” hours, I must selfishly confess that it is fine with me that they are on the road in the middle of the day and leave the best hours (before 9am and after 4pm) to the rest of us. Also, recently announced, the park just received many $millions to purchase new busses to replace the aging, and frequently failing, fleet. Unfortunately, replacements will be the same size. Many of us were hoping smaller busses would be experimented with in the hope of eventually limiting traffic up Cadillac to shuttle bus only.
Thank you for calling our attention to the new buses, Pat. Here is some information from MaineBiz:
Acadia National Park has received federal funding to improve the Island Explorer fleet of free shuttle buses.
Island Explorer — a fare-free service that serves the park between late June and Columbus Day and is owned and operated Downeast Transportation — has received the first three of 21 new buses on order for 2019.
“We expect that we’ll have 21 new buses on the road by June,” said Downeast Transportation General Manager Paul Murphy, according to an article in MaineBiz.
The cost is $240,000 per bus, for a total of $5.4 million, the article said. Funding comes from the federal Department of Interior through Acadia National Park, and from the Federal Transit Administration through the Maine Department of Transportation.
Passing the 70 Milestone in 2015….we decided to pool all our extra $, to save for a twice a year 2 week stays on MDI…with each new adventure we’ve committed to touching some piece of the island never previously explored….we’ve also learned the places to stay away from during certain periods….of course learning the ”back-roads” from the hotel to the park is extremely helpful…we would respectfully suggest a stricter enforcement of ALL park rules may help a number of problems the park faces, attributable to increased number of visitors…keeping commercial buses off the road during peak times would also help, particularly on Cadillac….limiting the time a particular bus may remain on the summit, the same program has been instituted on Mount Washington (NH), tour coaches stay 45 minutes, same is true for the cog rail passengers….frankly other than viewing (1) sunrise / sunset from the summit each trip, our time on Cadillac is limited to spend the clear nights photographing the sky….. I’m not very insightful person, however I would venture to guess, closing the summit road to ”private vehicles” would create more smoke than was witnessed in ”47”…. the cost of a National Park Pass is ”dirty cheap” considering the return …. frankly I’d gladly pay for an additional season stamp / permit for access for use of the ”road” (while this suggestion may not help with traffic conditions, it would create revenue to assist in the management of the same)…. with commerce vehicles pay an up-graded fee ….just some feeble Sunday Morning rambling from New Hampshire!
Dionne — Thanks for commenting from New Hampshire and congrats for passing the 70 milestone. We would second your recommendations for getting to know the “back roads” on MDI. You do have some insightful observations and we much appreciate you taking the time to spell them out here. In the wake of the federal shutdown, we were surprised to learn that the park operates with just 80 to 90 permanent employees and not all of those are full-time, in addition to the seasonal employees mentioned in our story, and that some more dollars are possibly needed for additional staff and the tremendous backlog of maintenance at national parks. While we are on the topic of funding, we would also suggest that perhaps the 35-day shutdown was a tremendous waste of money and time for Acadia and just about everyone else.
FYI, folks frequently see Snowy Owls on the Sargent Mtn hike too. Interesting thought on permanently closing JPH. Present structure is certainly not historically significant. Sure to be lots of public pushback but I think it is worth serious discussions!?
Pat — You may be right about the extent of pushback on any move to close the Jordan Pond House. I will make sure that James Linnane sees your comment since he has touted this idea for a while. The proposal to shutter the JPH may be similar to a longtime proposal to ban Bunker Hill Day (June 17) in Massachusetts as a holiday for state employees. The proposals may have some merit but neither is likely to happen.
Good info but if I read this correctly, 2017 actually had significantly more closures at 70 for the year? Still, any closure is bad news.
Thanks for the careful read of this story, Pat B. One difference between the two years is that in 2017, maybe more eyes were on the peak and it was the first year the park had a formal system for triggering a closure. In 2017, the park hired visitor service assistants, including at least one on the peak of Cadillac, to help rangers determine when conditions warrant the temporary closure of the summit. Also, in 2017, the visitor service assistants worked with Friends of Acadia summit stewards to judge closure conditions. I also noticed there may have been more frequent, short closures and openings in 2017 such as over the Labor Day weekend that year when there were seven. At this point, the park is stressing that the statistics are unscientific, but that a park social scientist will be analyzing the numbers in future years.
Geez, I’ve been up Cadillac a couple of times this winter and did not even hope to see a snowy.
As requested I commented on the transportation plan to say, inter alia, that the summit be closed to private vehicles and large buses entirely, to be replaced with shuttles; and that JPH be closed when the current concession expires.
The park has made a feeble attempt to suggest viewing sunrise and sunset from other spots, but more must be done.
James — Thanks much for this comment. It was the first time we hiked Cadillac in winter and conditions were just about ideal. It was so peaceful and the views were spectacular. Before we went up the summit road, a park ranger had told us he had spotted a snowy owl on Cadillac so we were hoping to see one and it was such a thrill when immediately we spotted the raptor on a spruce tree as soon as we reached the peak. Also, inter alia, we believe more and improved publicity is needed to persuade more people to take the fare-free Island Explorer from the Hulls Cove Visitor Center to Jordan Pond. Your ideas for reducing traffic congestion would work. If the Jordan Pond House was closed, it would likely improve business for private restaurants, and maybe reduce traffic, but what about the tradition of having tea and popovers? Also, the park last year spent about $350,000 upgrading the tea lawn.
Call me paranoid, but the quoted public relations person sure makes it sound like the rangers have their own agenda. “when we are able to close it for safety reasons, we do.”, which is, in my opinion, to justify the transportation of their choosing (preferred option).
Jon S — Thanks for commenting. We were thinking that if the park wanted to use Cadillac closures as a justification for the transportation plan, maybe the summit might be shut a lot more often. The park maintains that the closures are needed and conducted in case an emergency happens and an ambulance is needed at the summit, for example. It is definitely a rather narrow summit road.