Car reservation system approved for Acadia traffic control

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.

acadia traffic

A timed reservation system for cars is the conclusion of the final transportation plan to manage Acadia traffic. (Image courtesy of NPS)

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

acadia traffic

Traffic jams like these atop Cadillac Mountain are among the reasons for the Acadia transportation plan. (NPS photo)

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.

acadia traffic

A busy day on Cadillac isn’t exactly a walk in the park. (Photo courtesy of NPS)

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.

acadia traffic

These graphics from the final transportation plan show increasing visitation and the need for traffic control. (Image courtesy of NPS)

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.

cadillac mountain

Between 1989 and 2000, Cadillac Mountain has been the scene of 29 accidents involving large vehicles like buses and RVs. (NPS photo)

 

25 thoughts on “Car reservation system approved for Acadia traffic control

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  4. Butchie

    I have to be honest: having been born and raised in the region — and then having defended my homeland against all those on my travels who clearly, erroneously think that New Englanders are some sort of socialists — I am absolutely appalled even more here than there at the lack of concern that continues regarding access to the poor, the working poor, and the actual working middle class to National Parks, state parks, and non-profit-owned lands. Raising rates and expecting that visitors can just “stay a few more days” to walk or bus from place to place shows an incredible insensitivity to the elderly and those who work — and now more than ever clearly suffer — and therefore need and deserve our National Parks more than ever as a refuge for healing. I DON”T CARE that the National Parks have had their budgets cut!!! You all continue to sit on your butts while military budgets SKYROCKET in this nation and we try to add new wars to fight for others, and in the meantime working people have handed over their educations, jobs, their healthcare, their salaries, and their very homes to the children of the well-off, while they have done EVERYTHING “RIGHT.” You should be on your knees BEGGING the good and decent people who have served as laborers, caregivers, and public service providers to come to Acadia and your highly-gentrified Central Coast. I just arrived back here after spending some 25 years in California, where I watched an entire cottage court of rentals units be emptied out of older male workers including a teacher, librarian, public gardner, and retail employees — mixed in color, and WITH NOWHERE TO GO –so that the children of the wealthy could have their apartments. Just where and when will you all contribute to stopping this? Will you decide to hold on the new Jeep for your daughter, or perhaps let some decent, church-going child be given a scholarship and instead encourage your child to earn his way by working? I am not kidding here, I am sick of hearing what you WON’T so, and would like to know what it will take for you to support your fellow Americans rather than the well-off and your own selfish needs… a morality lesson? Church attendance? Bible lessons? The National Parks in the West were FILLED with wealthy San Franciscans, happy to relay how this was their 40th annual visit to Yosemite Valley, or Point Reyes National Park. Just when will you help make it EASIER instead of harder for America’s hardest working citizens to receive educations or visit their National Park???

    Reply
    1. Acadia on my mind Post author

      Thanks for the comment, Butchie. You raise some scary and provocative points about the growing gaps between the wealthy and the middle and other classes in the US. The fee for a reservation at Acadia is likely to be less than $10 and it will be for parking on Cadillac, Sand Beach and Jordan Pond, but people can still hike or bike to these areas for free after buying a pass, of course, often the 7-day pass for $30 for a vehicle. There are some ways to get a free pass including U.S. grade 4 students, those who are permanently disabled, active duty military and a lifetime senior pass to all federal parks that charge a fee is $80 for those 62 and older. Another interesting point is that wealthy people – George B. Dorr and John D. Rockefeller Jr. to name just a couple – were responsible for creating Acadia. Dorr spent maybe almost all of his family’s inheritance on creating the park and died basically penniless. Still, there is no arguing that a reservation fee or possible pass increases in the future will be tougher on the poor and those who are less able to afford it and therefore could limit access to the park.

      Reply
  5. Jeanette

    Just my (humble) two cents worth – Unfortunately, the popularity of Acadia is it’s own enemy. If changes are not made now, there may not be a park to enjoy in the years to come. The time has come for some kind of plan to be implemented, whether we like it or not. I have not been to Acadia during the summer months since I was a child living in Maine back in the mid 1960’s. I watch with horror at reports of closures online & photos of people parking willy nilly all over the place. (People behaving badly.) When I do visit in the fall (every two years), I note the damage done to the grass & plantings at the edges of the road from illegal & thoughtless parking. Makes me sad. People these days seem to have little respect for nature. Instead it is all about getting the “experience” or taking that Instagram photo. What these people never understand is Acadia (as with all national & even state parks) is not an amusement park. High visitor attendance has a great impact on the fragile eco-system. Visiting the park will take planning, yet also flexibility. I come to enjoy the beauty & do nature photography. I plan almost every detail of my trip, but remain mindful of being flexible since weather & conditions can & do change. All visitors need to do the same. I do think that large tour busses should be banned from the Cadillac Summit as they pose a safety hazard. I followed one up & noticed that the right rear wheel kept coming of the side of the mountain. Yikes! Also, it seems these busses are often involved in accidents. Perhaps parking needs to be at the bottom with some kind of smaller capacity shuttle bus ferrying visitors to the top & back at intervals. For the sunrise observers, that means someone has to work pre-dawn to get visitors up and there may have to be a daily limit. Visitors also need to realize that Acadia covers more than the Park Loop Road. Spread out & be amazed at what is there.
    Since I visit in mid to late October, I have yet to be able to use the Island Explorer. Would be great to have extended service past Columbus/Indigenous Peoples Day. I would gladly use it. We are hikers/walkers even in our early 60’s and welcome being dropped off to walk sections of the park.
    Unlike another poster, I would not approve of Jordan Pond House closing. Either another food concession needs to be considered or the whole thing needs a lot of control. Of course, it seems very few people picnic anymore. I have visited at least one state park in Maine that has NO food facilities. With a tiny amount of planning, we had snacks, lunch & water in our backpacks and “survived” quite nicely.
    As for locals, I do think they should be given special frequent visitor passes. They are the ones who visit at all times of the year and should have freedom to come when they desire.

    Reply
    1. Acadia on my mind Post author

      Thanks for the comments and staking out some positions on issues, Jeanette. We will have to see how the reservation system is implemented at Acadia in 2020, probably just one or two places, maybe Cadillac summit and/or the giant north lot at Jordan Pond to start. We’re not getting the sense that it will be that restrictive to start. In any event, it will be tricky to put in place. Crowds vary depending on the weather and the day. One day, a reservation system could be overkill; the next it would be needed. One issue we have noticed on the increase in recent years is stacking of rocks, either near Bar Island, at coastal hikes such as Ship Harbor or on other trails. A simple rule is “leave no trace,” but many people ignore it. Sounds like you are visiting Acadia at a good time. The weather can be beautiful in mid to late October. I think everyone agrees on expanding the fare-free Island Explorer service, but that will require more funding.

      Reply
  6. Annette

    I have been visiting Acadia every year for over 30 years. I come in September to participate in the Hawk Watch on Cadillac Mountain every day of my 2 week vacation. I have a Senior Pass and drive into the Park. Will I have to pay $10 daily to participate? This will most likely cause me to give up a favorite activity. As a senior riding the Island Explorer is not an option.

    Reply
    1. Acadia on my mind Post author

      You raise a good question, Annette, and there is not a clear answer in the final transportation plan. The National Park Service does say that it will consider a plan for frequent users to be eligible for a “discount pack” from the daily fee for the reservation system, which is likely to be less than $10 a day. It’s not clear if you would qualify as a frequent user since that category of visitor is currently undefined. Also, the earliest the reservation system would be in place would be 2020. Ahead of 2020, the NPS needs to finalize many specifics in the reservation system. Would reservations for the peak of Cadillac be required for every day of HawkWatch during September, for example? Probably not. While it’s unclear how much you and other HawkWatch participants would need to pay for a reservation, the NPS does state in the plan that “the timed-entry system (as currently designed and envisioned) sufficiently accounts for administrative (park employees and volunteers on official duty, and emergency vehicles) parking needs.”That means spaces could be set aside for volunteers, if you or others at HawkWatch can be categorized as a volunteer, but cost is still unknown. It will be interesting to see how this shakes out during HawkWatch in 2020. The Island Explorer does not go to the top of Cadillac so that is not an option for summit visitors. There is also no exemption from the reservation fee envisioned for holders of senior passes other than if such holders can qualify as frequent visitors and then be eligible for a discount pack.

      Reply
  7. Jon Suiter

    I recognize that the prevailing attitude of NPS and probably the general public is “something must be done”. I feel the NPS is getting approval to do more than what is prudent, and they seem to be planning large scale changes rather than taking small prudent steps year after year. I disagree with several of proposed measures in their “preferred option”, before and after the minor concessions they made. The area I feel strongest about is the reservations for the Ocean Corridor. A more reasonable starting point would be reservations for Sand Beach parking. They could manage all the parking lots from Sand Beach to Fabrii, and eliminated right-side parking, and people could still drive-through without any reservations all year long, preserving the “Loop” in Park Loop Road. NPS could decide how to manage each lot, as they like to say, be “adaptive”. For example, I would consider closing the gift shop at Thunder Hole (once contract expires), and having that parking lot be 50% reserved, 50% first-come first-served with an attendant and 30-minute limit, $10 fine for each 30 minutes overage. They did adjust and clarify the Ocean Corridor, but refused to give up on the idea of making Otter Cliff Rd “exit only”, or the corridor reservation idea. Very disappointing, and discouraging.

    Reply
    1. Acadia on my mind Post author

      Thanks for the comments, Jon. The NPS is planning some large scale changes, but our guess is that those changes will come in small steps, probably starting with a reservation system for Cadillac or North Lot of Jordan Pond for 2020. And we wonder if the reservation system will be in effect every day during peak season or whether it could be quite flexible. Some of the changes such as a new parking lot at the Liscomb Pit will require some serious money and the park is backed up with maintenance. Your suggestion about closing the Thunder Hole gift shop might be worth strong consideration. We don’t know if it makes much money for the park or the license holder. A lot of people are wary of the reservation system for the ocean corridor, so maybe that will move forward at a slow pace.

      Reply
  8. Catherine Ravenel

    Will holders of senior passes have to reserve and pay? More importantly, will holders of those passes that live, or own summer property, on the Island have to reserve and pay extra?

    Reply
    1. Acadia on my mind Post author

      Catherine — That is a good question about the senior pass and local residents and it is one question under consideration by Acadia National Park. Senior pass holders and local residents and other annual pass holders will need to pay extra for reservations, it appears, but a discount could be possible, judging by this response from the park in fine print of the transportation plan. “The National Park Service 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.” During the public comment period, the park heard about the issue: “Some commenters expressed that while they
      were in support of getting a reservation, they thought the reservations should be free since
      visitors already pay a park entry fee and additional fees would be overly burdensome,” the park said in the plan. Thanks for the comment, Catherine.

      Reply
  9. Carol Pouch

    Where is the consideration for home owners who live on Otter Cliff Road, having to put up with all the buses and their speeding and racket. Locals are left with being unable to drive around even going to the grocery store is crowded with no where to park. Speeding on Otter Cliff is a big problem

    Reply
    1. Acadia on my mind Post author

      Carol — Otter Cliff Road is mentioned in the transportation plan several times. You probably should access the plan and use the search function (command is control f on your keyboard and then enter search term) and search for Otter Cliff Road. During initial
      implementation of the reservation system, the Sand Beach Entrance Station would be used to
      validate reservations on the Ocean Drive corridor. Vehicles would be able to enter or exit Park
      Loop Road via Otter Cliffs Road (this is the same as it is currently). The National Park Service, in the transportation plan, also said it will consider making Otter Cliff Road an exit only. Exit only might be better for residents? Here is the pertinent section: “The NPS plan has been updated in the final environmental impact statement to amend the timed-entry corridor to begin at the Ocean Drive entrance station and end after the Gorham Mountain parking lot. Otter Cliff Road will therefore remain open as a two-way road during initial implementation of the plan. This change will maximize visitor opportunities for this portion of Park Loop Road by providing spontaneous access to the scenic driving and trailhead opportunities along this segment. If monitoring of this roadway segment and associated lots starts to depart from desired conditions for these resources, the National Park Service may consider making Otter Cliff Road exit only, and extending the segment of road included in the timed-entry system to manage this segment of roadway and its associated lots.” Thank you for your comment.

      Reply
  10. Richard Pouch

    i don’t see any details on the use of Otter Cliff Road either for access to the park or its use by Explorer buses. Last year the number of buses using the road was increased and it is unclear whether further increases are part of the planning. Between these buses, tour buses private vehicles bypassing other entry points OCR is almost overrun especially during peak afternoon hours when Sand Beach empties. My neighbors and I commented on this last year during the comment period but I don’t see how this is being addressed.

    Reply
    1. Acadia on my mind Post author

      Thanks, Richard. I can certainly understand the pain you are experiencing as an Otter Cliff Road resident. Do buses have to use OCR? If not, maybe they should be banned from the road. If you check on page 244 of the final transportation plan, there is some discussion of Otter Cliff Road and possibly making it exit only. We would be interested in your opinion of this option and whether or not it would improve the traffic situation on Otter Cliff Road, which sounds like it is carrying a heavy burden at this point at certain times.

      Reply
      1. Jon Suiter

        They should route as many of the Island Explorer buses as possible through Blackwoods campground, using a new and improved roadway where the service road exists. I think this was considered, not sure whether they will follow through. Commercial buses should be banned or at least severly restricted by size and number, the road should be rebuilt, and speed enforcement should be strict.

        Reply
  11. June

    It looks like the “timed reservation system” will be first come, first to get a space which could be for all day if a car is not required to leave at a particular time. Is that correct? I also applaud the park for addressing this entire issue of over-crowding. Is there currently a special lot for buses and RVs?
    Thanks.

    Reply
    1. Acadia on my mind Post author

      Thanks for the comment, June. You are right about being able to stay all day if you want. There is no set time to leave, only to enter a reserved spot. I believe the Cadillac summit road is closed to RVs, though a limited number of tour buses can access the peak. Buses and RVS are not allowed at Sand Beach lot. Under the proposed reservation system, 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. These hours would be lengthened or
      shortened as necessary to correspond with shifting visitation patterns to protect a high-quality
      visitor experience consistent with desired conditions.
      Visitors who are willing and able to obtain reservations would have a high probability of
      accessing those locations they desire, the park says.

      Reply
  12. JAMES J LINNANE

    Thanks for digesting all this so quickly.

    ANP’s staff merit a lot of praise for doing all this hard work, earnestly and widely seeking public input, and directly addressing those comments. Let us hope it works.

    It is good that they are doing something, although I don’t think that this is the best solution. Initially, this will be very unpopular. As it is, a family from away will be paying a hefty fee just to enter the park. On top of that they will be paying a fee to travel to the “must see” destinations. In fairness, the Island Explorer service should be expanded concomitant with these changes, including a route to the Cadillac summit. The new majority in the US House, including a member from this district, argues with conviction that they care more for working and middle class people than the current administration. They may give NPS some grief about this. As it is, the park entry fee should be restructured. The current iteration encourages private vehicles although it is probably the only way to have an enforceable fee system. At least this proposal discourages private vehicles in the manner of a congestion tax.

    Expanding parking is like a dog chasing its tail. I’m biased because the North Lot at Eagle Lake is one of my favorites. The problem there is that some people, especially those with young kids on bikes, are not aware that it is possible to visit Eagle Lake from the North Lot without crossing a busy highway at grade. Don’t be surprised that some folks parking at Liscomb Pit will use their bikes to go back out to 233 and ride them along the highway back to the Eagle Lake entrance. The VC at Thompson Island is an eyesore that will not be missed. One hopes that MDOT will cooperate and make it safe for visitors in RVs to cross traffic into the picnic area parking lot. It is not heavily used now and I will miss the solitude, but it can be employed to solve congestion problems with a turning lane and perhaps a traffic light. If they continue to allow parking in the right lane of the PLR, the congestion and public safety issues will persist.

    Since they were going to make changes anyway, they should have gone for the long game: ban private vehicles on the PLR from mid-June to Indigenous Peoples Day; close the gift shops and JPH restaurant; vastly expand the Island Explorer service; and close Cadillac to private vehicles permanently. There may be some revenue potential in commercial use permits for taxis and buses to provide special sunrise and sunset tours.

    Reply
    1. Acadia on my mind Post author

      Thanks for the insights, Jim. You pose some radical ideas at the end. If the NPS reservation system is controversial, imagine if your ideas were in the “preferred alternative.” Then we would have an uproar. It seems it would be a lot less hectic and more peaceful if the PLR was closed to private vehicles during peak season and Cadillac shut to private vehicles. You also have interesting thoughts on Thompson Island; that is quite a refuge right now, but something does need to be done about traffic on the highway. The traffic is tough to navigate. Will be interesting to see how reservation system unfolds. One key is that NPS says it will be flexible and react to conditions and maybe have a discount for frequent visitors. Great comments, Jim.

      Reply
  13. Alice MacDonald Long

    Thank you for allowing the public to have input into the transportation plan. I’m pleased to know that there is a plan for the future since it’s the mission of the park to “protect and preserve”. I did not read that the size of the buses will be changed in 2020 – is that still in the plan? I look forward to using the Island Explorer bus rather than a car and hope the citizens who live year-round on the island will cooperate with the park management to help this plan succeed.

    Reply
    1. Acadia on my mind Post author

      Thanks for the comment, Alice. There is no plan to change the size of the Island Explorer buses. The Island Explorer truly is a nice option and thanks for your optimism about this transportation plan. There is a lot at stake for the park, visitors and others.

      Reply

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