Acadia National Park is calling for some sweeping changes to relieve traffic congestion 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.
The plan also says that right lane parking on the Park Loop Road will be initially retained, but eventually eliminated as other options and parking become available for Acadia traffic. A park spokeswoman said earlier this year that the reservation system would start in 2020 at the earliest.
Reservations for Acadia traffic would be needed during the peak season of the middle of June to the middle of October. The proposed fee for a reservation, which includes possible discounts for frequent visitors to the lots, would be in addition to the visitor pass.
The park says the timed reservation system and other changes would improve visitor experience and access and create longterm benefits for the local and regional tourism industry. The plan comes after park rangers closed the summit road to Cadillac Mountain 54 times last year and at least 49 times in 2017 because of traffic congestion and visits to Acadia jumped to more than 3.52 million last year, up about 60% from 2007.
The park today unveiled a 265-page final environmental impact statement on the plan, following a draft released last April.
Plan urges expansion of Island Explorer and other measures
In order to reduce Acadia traffic, the plan also calls for expanding the fare-free Island Explorer service, which now runs late June to Columbus Day, seven days a week, with a reduction in service in late August.
Acadia National Park Superintendent Kevin Schneider said the park’s so-called “preferred alternative,” was revised in response to public comment of the draft.
“This plan is a blueprint for the future,” Schneider said in a prepared statement. “Many of the details related to implementation of the final plan/EIS will take years and continue to require public feedback and stakeholder engagement.”
Other changes supported by the park include:
- The existing parking lot and restroom on the north side of Route 233 at Eagle Lake would be removed and a new, 125-space parking lot would be constructed south of the highway at an NPS maintenance storage yard known as Liscomb Pit, an approximately 2-acre area currently used as a maintenance storage yard.
- Additional parking would be provided at Hulls Cove, and the visitor center would be redesigned and relocated on site, but on grade with the parking lot.
- Visitor services at the Thompson Island Information Center, located on the west side of Route 3, would be removed and the area restored to natural conditions once the Acadia Gateway Center becomes operational.
Car reservations online, or at kiosks at Village Green, visitor centers
Under the plan, reservations for private vehicles would be needed to park at Jordan Pond, for vehicle access to Cadillac Summit Road, or to proceed past the Sand Beach Entrance Station to the Ocean Drive corridor, which is between the Sand Beach Entrance Station and the Fabbri picnic area/monument.
Reservations could be made online and at automated reservation kiosks in key locations including the Village Green visitor station, the Hulls Cove Visitor Center and the Acadia Gateway Center. A percentage of reservations would be held aside for short-term purchase including the day of the reservation, the day before or the week of the reservation.
The park still needs to prepare a record of decision for review and approval by National Park Service Northeast Regional Director Gay Vietzke. After she approves, the plan for Acadia traffic can then be implemented, depending on funding and staffing.
In the plan, the National Park Service says it appreciates the desire for frequent visitors to the parking lots on the reservation system to have discounted access in order to keep total costs of visiting low. One of the simplest ways for these users to keep costs low would be to utilize other means of access to these areas including the free Island Explorer, biking, or hiking in. However, during implementation of the plan, the National Park Service will seek to pilot other ways of providing discounts for frequent visitors through sales of “discount packs” administered in a manner similar to the Acadia Annual Pass Sale. Details of these opportunities will be developed during implementation of the plan.
In an executive summary, the park says the changes will cause “a significant adverse impact” on the historic character of the Park Loop Road because it creates segmented driving counter to its historic design. It also involves some construction of modern infrastructure that detracts from the historic character of the road and cultural landscapes, the plan said.
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 length of the initial entry window may be extended or shortened as park managers optimize the reservation system, but it is estimated that initial timed-entry windows would be in 15-minute to 2 hour time blocks.
Christie Denzel Anastasia, spokeswoman for the park, said in late January that a reservation system might be put in place at only one or two locations in 2020, partly because of the time needed to create a reservation system.
The park will also be flexible and adaptive with the reservation system, she said.
The EIS may be followed by the development of a concession prospectus or new restrictions on commercial use-authorized activities, the report said.
Right-lane parking along sections of Park Loop Road to be reduced
Once the comprehensive management plan has been approved, additional feasibility studies and more detailed planning and environmental documentation may be necessary before certain proposed actions are carried out, the plan said.
During initial implementation of the plan, the right lane of Park Loop Road would continue to serve as overflow parking for up to 350 vehicles on busy days. Over a period of several years, the number of right-lane parking spaces would be reduced to approximately 60 spaces along the Ocean Drive corridor, about 30 spaces near the Precipice trailhead, about 20 spaces along the causeway, approximately 20 spaces at the Orange and Black trailhead, and approximately 20 spaces near Beaver Pond.
Initially, under the reservation system, the Sand Beach Entrance Station would be used to validate reservations on the Ocean Drive corridor.
At the Jordan Pond North Lot and on Cadillac Summit Road, a staff person—and a temporary or mobile reservation validation gate, a booth or kiosk, if needed—would be used during the initial implementation phase to validate reservations.
Thee reservations would be accompanied by a modest, or likely less than $10 fee, to cover the costs to operate the reservation system, monitor traffic conditions, and support alternative transportation options such as the free Island Explorer service, the plan said.
These reservations, and the increased fee associated with them, are not proposed for many areas of the park. Visitors would still be able to access the park in a variety of ways without paying an additional fee, the plan said.
Expanding Island Explorer to meet visitor access is a critical component of the plan, the park said. Under the plan, Island Explorer service inside the park would be expanded as necessary up to the park’s visitor capacity and, as funding allows, would improve access for those unable to secure a vehicle reservation during their desired entry time. The operating season of Island Explorer service would be expanded to coincide with that of the reservation system, the plan said.
Reservations would be required starting as early as 4 a.m. on Cadillac Mountain and 7 a.m. at the Jordan Pond North Lot and along the Ocean Drive corridor. Reservations would be required for entry as late as 9 p.m. on Cadillac Mountain, and as late as 5 p.m. at the Jordan Pond North Lot and along the Ocean Drive corridor, the plan said.