Acadia parking reservation system advances amid pandemic

Update: Acadia National Park announced in early August that a pilot for the vehicle reservation system will be held from Oct. 1 to 18 of 2020. Reservations, costing $2 for each vehicle in addition to regular park pass, need to be made online at recreation.gov to enter Sand Beach Station from 7 am to 5 pm and Cadillac from 4:30 am to 6:30 pm from Oct. 1 to 18.  A specific parking spot is not guaranteed but the plan is to guarantee a parking spot somewhere within the reserved area for each vehicle that makes a reservation.

The pandemic has delayed openings at Acadia National Park and indefinitely postponed operation of shuttle buses, but leaders are forging ahead with plans for a trial run this fall of a parking reservation system for Cadillac Mountain and Ocean Drive, with people allowed to make online reservations in August.

acadia traffic

A parking reservation system to help ease congestion like this on Cadillac starts a trial run in the fall, with sign-ups beginning in August. (NPS photo)

The dry run for parking at a reserved site and driving at Cadillac and along Ocean Drive between the Sand Beach Entrance booths and Otter Cliff Road will be held in October. Reservations to access those areas can be made well ahead of the test run, probably as early as Aug. 1 over the same web-based system currently used for reservations at National Park Service campgrounds.

Acadia is also planning a reservation system to park at the north lot of Jordan Pond starting not before 2022, but that location will not be in the trial run, according to John T. Kelly, management assistant at Acadia National Park.

acadia traffic

The parking reservation system is a key aspect of the 2019 transportation plan to manage Acadia traffic. (Image courtesy of NPS)

The vehicle reservation system, a key aspect of the park’s new transportation plan to reduce traffic congestion, is planned to operate for a full visitor season for the first time in 2021 between June 23 and the second Monday in October at Cadillac summit and the Ocean Drive Corridor, or past the entrance to Sand Beach. The test drive is aimed at providing important lessons for running the system in 2021.

Kelly acknowledged uncertainties, but he said the coronavirus pandemic so far is not altering plans for the dry run of the vehicle reservation system.

“There is so much unknown that I can’t say for certain anything really but we are on schedule and we have every intent on doing the trial run and keeping it going next year,” Kelly said in a phone interview.

“It is a great opportunity to get the bugs out of what we are preparing and end up going into the off season versus starting it next June and going into the busiest part of the season.”

Parking reservation system requires fee in addition to park pass

The online parking reservation system is intended to give people a better experience and a safer situation atop 1,530-foot Cadillac, the highest mountain in Acadia and the highest point on the east coast of the US, and other reservation areas.

There will be a small administrative fee for parking during the trial system in October and then in 2021 the fee will go up a little bit to provide revenue that will be used to help expand the fare-free Island Explorer bus shuttle in the park, he said. The reservation system for Acadia would be operated and managed by Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. as part of a 10-year federal contract the consultant holds for the inter-agency web site called Recreation.gov.

acadia annual pass

The $55 Acadia annual pass, and the $30 weekly pass, won’t include the cost of parking reservations (Image courtesy of NPS)

The reservation fee is in addition to a pass to enter Acadia.

Acadia was initially hopeful of beginning the online parking reservation system in the summer of 2020, but a 35-day federal shutdown last year delayed implementation, and it turns out that given the pandemic, it may be better and more effective to start its first full season in 2021.

Fred Ehrlenbach, chair of the Acadia National Park Advisory Commission, said he expects visitation at the park could drop by 1 to 1.5 million this year.

“I don’t think you are going to have that many people this summer,” he said, “not only because of the COVID-19 issue but also because of the economic issue.”

Ehrlenbach said the reduction in visitation “is going to be devastating,” for many local businesses that depend on tourism.

But he said he was not concerned about the vehicle reservation fee because it is not going to be that high.

Isolation rule could stymie tourism in Maine

quarantine

Gov. Janet Mills has a whole page on Maine’s COVID-19 response, including links to information about a mandatory 14-day quarantine for out-of-state visitors and residents returning from outside Maine (Image courtesy of Maine.gov)

Gov. Janet Mills signed an executive order that requires anyone traveling into Maine to immediately isolate and stay away from public places for 14 days. The quarantine covers residents returning to the state, second home owners and tourists and is in effect through June and possibly July and August. Violators of the quarantine requirement would face criminal penalties of up to 6 months in jail and $1,000 fine. Second homeowners with a lot of time off or returning year-round residents might be able to quarantine for two weeks, but it’s a nonstarter for most tourists.

“The governor says they are going to have to quarantine for 14 days,” said Ehrlenbach. “That’s the way it is.”

The Acadia advisory commission voted in support of the transportation plan in Sept. 2018.

Likely beginning Aug. 1, people would log on to Recreation.gov to make vehicle reservations for the trial run at Acadia in October and then again for a spot next year.

“For the dry run this October, we will only charge the administrative fee that is contracted with Recreation.gov to manage the reservation system,” Kelly wrote in a followup email. “We have not determined that fee yet. The plan beginning in 2021 is for the fee to include a revenue component that will be retained by park and used to enhance the Island Explorer bus system.”

Cancellation and refund policies for the trial run and full season vehicle reservation system are being developed, he added. No decisions have been made, but the park will build in plenty of flexibility for visitors, according to Kelly.

No limit on length of stay in reservation area

Hours for the vehicle reservations will be 7 am to 5 pm daily at the Sand Beach entrance and hours for Cadillac Summit will be broken into three reservation periods: sunrise, daytime and sunset, according to Kelly.

Traffic congestion closes Cadillac

An Acadia National Park ranger directs vehicles away from Cadillac summit, closed because of traffic congestion during the Labor Day weekend of 2018. The trial vehicle reservation system at Cadillac will offer  three entry periods: Sunrise, daytime and sunset.

“You could get a reservation for any time in that period and it is a timed entry so there is no limit to how long you can stay in any of those locations,” Kelly said. “Once you get past the checkpoint, you are free to stay as long as you like.”

“When it gets up and running, you will be able to make reservations as early as 6 months [in advance] and right up to the moment you want to enter, subject to availability of course.”

If you wait to the last minute on a busy day in August, getting to Sand Beach may be a challenge, he said.

The trial run for the online parking reservation system would take place during the first two or three weeks of October.

Acadia has not set the exact start and end dates for the vehicle reservation system for either the trial run in 2020 or the season in 2021, but would like them to coincide with Island Explorer shuttle service, which in a normal year operates from June 23 to the second Monday in October.

California and Hawaii parks require parking reservations

Kelly said the Acadia reservation system is similar to one on Recreation.gov for sunrise from 3 to 7 am at Haleakala Summit in Haleakala National Park in Hawaii. Tickets cost $1 per vehicle and drivers show a confirmation email when entering the park and a photo ID matching the name of the reservation-holder.

cadillac sunrise

Plan on reserving a spot in August to drive up Cadillac for the sunrise in October? The online reservation system might look like this one for the Haleakala National Park sunrise. (Image courtesy of Recreation.gov)

The Muir Woods National Monument in California, on the other hand, has its own private contractor operate an online and phone reservation system for parking, with $8.50 for a standard parking reservation.

At Acadia, parking permits will be limited according to the capacity of each reservation area. The exact numbers for capacities have not been developed yet, but the intent is to make it easy for people to find a parking spot.

Acadia is working with people at Recreation.gov to determine the caps on parking for any sort of 15-minute slot during the reservation time.

It is a calculation that involves assumptions about the number of people who would be arriving, the number of available spaces and the turnover rate, or the length of stay in each of the areas.

“How many can they allow in on the assumption of how many people are coming out? That number is not going to be a steady number. We know that because the time the reservation system will be in place, there are lots of variations to the demand. That number should be changed on the fly to ensure we have got the right input.”

The online parking reservation system is needed, Kelly said. While visitation at Acadia is expected to decrease significantly this year because of the pandemic, the number of visits has skyrocketed over the past 10 years to about 3.5 million for each of the past three years.

Traffic jam at Acadia National Park

Frustrated drivers back up and turn around when the north lot of Jordan Pond is full. The reservation system for this part of Acadia won’t start before 2022.

The summit of Cadillac, Ocean Drive at Sand Beach and the north lot of Jordan Pond have become hot spots for traffic congestion and jockeying for spaces that has sometimes caused illegal and unsafe parking along roads and other areas.

The road test for the vehicle reservation system would come after the pandemic forced several delays and changes at Acadia.

In a stunning move, the operator of the Island Explorer, Downeast Transportation, said last week it will indefinitely postpone Island Explorer bus service for 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Under state and federal social distancing guidelines, the popular buses could only carry 12 passengers each, compared to the normal 30 seated and 14 standing.

Paul Murphy, executive director of Downeast Transportation, stated that the indefinite postponement of the Island Explorer was his most difficult decision in two decades with the bus service.

Pandemic delays opening of Acadia National Park

Also because of the pandemic emergency, the opening of the Hulls Cove Visitor Center in Acadia was delayed to June 1 this year, while campgrounds and the Seiur de Monts Visitor Center openings were delayed to June 15. No date was set for the opening the Park Loop Road, but it normally opens around the same time or a bit earlier than the Hulls Cove center.

In an April 17 press release announcing the delays, Acadia said that if the pandemic continues, it would evaluate the dates and possibly postpone them further.

Acadia has closed the Park Loop Road including Ocean Drive and all restrooms, carriage roads, campgrounds, visitor centers, and visitor services.

island explorer

The popular fare-free Island Explorer has been indefinitely postoned as a result of COVID-19, as social distancing rules would have only allowed 12 passengers, compared with the normal 30 seated and 14 standing. The shuttle has played an important role in managing Acadia traffic.

Kelly said people will not pay the reservation fee if they take the Island Explorer to a reservation area. The shuttle bus not does go up Cadillac. The park is looking at opportunities to provide alternative transportation to the Cadillac Summit when the reservation system is in effect, but 2022 is the earliest possible for that to be in place. The park also does not know if the alternative transportation to Cadillac will be fare-free or not.

Anyone who enters the park in any manner must also purchase and display a weekly, annual, or lifetime pass from May through October. This entrance fee is in addition to any possible fee at a reservation area.

A private, non-commercial vehicle pass, for example, costs $30 for 7 days, or $55 for 12 months, and admits all occupants, while a 7-day pass for a person with no vehicle costs $15. Youths 15 and under are admitted free of charge.

21 thoughts on “Acadia parking reservation system advances amid pandemic

  1. Pingback: Acadia parking reservation program draws flak in Bar Harbor

  2. Pingback: 'Nightmare' Sand Beach vehicle reservation system deferred

  3. Brett Johnson

    I live near Bangor, ME. We have an annual parks pass. The only park we can conveniently use our park pass at is Acadia. Any other place is hundreds of miles away. We visit the park several times each summer. This is an inconvenience to the locals who visit the park frequently. On top of paying our annual fee, we now have to pay for a reservation to go to certain places in the park. We, as a family, will need to reassess our park pass and perhaps look into a state park pass and explore those next summer. It is kind of a shame you did this to locals.

    Reply
    1. Acadia on my mind Post author

      Thanks for the comment, Brett. Many local residents feel the same way, so at least you have plenty of company in this instance.

      Reply
  4. Matthew Libby

    I would love to pay for reservations but I do not see a clearly defined link showing where to begin the process.Can you email me the link so I can pay?

    Reply
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  6. Pingback: Maine quarantine order rocks Acadia vacations, life on MDI

  7. Pingback: Acadia National Park during the pandemic: Masks, isolation

  8. John c

    I have been coming up to Acadia np for over 30 years ,staying 3 weeks each year. All this nonsense, micro management is sending people away. People go to parks to relax, not on there phones and computers trying to get a reservation. We are not at Disneyworld, working with fastpass. Or booking dinner reservations at a 5 star restaurant in nyc. Very simple if a area too crowed, move along, if someone can’t take no for an answer summons them. Not 5 or 10 $ make it 100 or 200$ they will learn. Besides this traffic plan and extra fees to supplement the buses to get ride of cars would fall nicely into your ultimate goal NO CARS IN ACADIA !!!
    KEEP YOUR TRAFFIC PLAN alot of other places to SPEND MY MONEY,

    Reply
  9. Jeanette Matlock

    I have a question – north lot at Jordan Pond House. Does that refer to the lot closest to the restaurant or the lot where you have to walk through the trees to get to Jordan Park House? We usually park in the further lot.

    Reply
    1. Acadia on my mind Post author

      Thanks for asking, Jeanette. Yes, the north lot is the big lot that deadends at the boat ramp to the pond and yes, there is that walk through the trees to reach the Jordan Pond House. During the busy season, the Jordan Pond House itself generally controls parking at the smaller lot near the restaurant.

      Reply
  10. Carol Pouch

    We live on Otter Cliff Road. Can we drive down Ocean Drive to get to our home. We have a lifetime pass.

    Reply
    1. Acadia on my mind Post author

      Hi Carol, once the parking reservation system is in place, there won’t be unlimited access for private vehicles on Ocean Drive anymore. That means you would either have paid for a reservation (the small fee is on top of any lifetime passes) during peak hours, or you drive off-peak, or you would have to get to your home via Otter Cliff Road. Details are still being worked out, but you can read more about the final Acadia transportation plan here: https://parkplanning.nps.gov/document.cfm?parkID=203&projectID=58482&documentID=94071

      Reply
      1. Anonymous

        My real concern is the loss of the Island Explorer. I would leave my car home, walk to the nearest campground (Ireson Hill), take the IE. Into town and throughout the park (Even Schoodic when it ran), and return home. Now the maze of fees and restrictions once the town opens is indeed daunting.

        Reply
        1. Acadia on my mind Post author

          Hi Anonymous, the indefinite postponement of the Island Explorer is a result of the pandemic. The parking reservation system is meant to be supplemented by the Island Explorer, to help ease what has been growing traffic congestion in the park, and so the fare-free shuttle will eventually be back. The small fee for the reservation system during the trial run this year basically covers the cost of the system, and will be increased a little in the future to help cover and expand the Island Explorer, details still to be worked out.

          Reply
  11. Anonymous

    DISQUSTING !!! $30 for a one day visit, or for a week. No accommodation for flexible planning. If your goal is to reduce visitors, then this plan will be a raging success. I paid for a lifetime pass, now I find that it will cost $30 if I get out of the car. This plan will definitely reduce traffic on the Trenton Bridge.

    Reply
    1. Acadia on my mind Post author

      Hi Anonymous, if you have a lifetime pass, you don’t have to pay for the $30 weekly Acadia pass. While the parking reservation system would be on top of the lifetime pass or the $30 weekly Acadia pass, the fee is projected to be less than $10. If other parks with parking reservation systems are any indication, it’s $1 to see the sunrise in Haleakala National Park, and $8.50 to make a reservation for John Muir Woods National Monument. Let’s hope it’ll be closer to $1 than to $8.50.

      Reply
  12. JAMES LINNANE

    it is beginning to cost a lot of money to visit a national park. The reasons for this are understandable. Over crowding ruins the experience of visiting a national park and more visitors mean more damage thereby increasing the cost of maintenance for which more revenue is needed. On the other hand, they are supposed to belong to all of us. Ideally the government should fully fund maintenance from the general fund. The price of entrance should be nominal and the entrance pass should become a lottery ticket for the limited number of visits available to reduce overcrowding.

    Reply
    1. Acadia on my mind Post author

      Thanks very much for the comment, Jim. Considering the president and Congress have approved $3 trillion in emergency packages during the pandemic, it seems Washington could come up with $11 billion for the backlog in maintenance at National Parks. We can say that we are looking forward to participating in the trial run of the reservation system and watching the operation firsthand. Talking about the cost of a pass, seniors should know that the cost of a lifetime senior pass increased from $10 to $80 in 2017. The pass provides entrance to 2,000 recreation sites managed by six federal agencies including the NPS. The extra cost is aimed at raising money for benefiting national parks and other sites.

      Reply

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