Citing a shortage of seasonal staff this year, the park has closed Cadillac Mountain overnight to vehicles and stopped staffing the popular Village Green Information Center in Bar Harbor, among other moves to deal with a lack of workers for Acadia visitor services.
Even the Star Party at Cadillac, one of the more in-demand events of the Acadia Night Sky Festival in September, has been cancelled “due to limited capacity and staffing constraints,” according to the festival website.
But perhaps the biggest impact to Acadia visitor services is the elimination of park staff at the Village Green Information Center, ending a longtime presence of rangers in downtown Bar Harbor during the busy season. According to former ranger Maureen Robbins Fournier, rangers sold park entrance and commercial passes, swore in hundreds of Junior Rangers every year, and helped people plan visits and Acadia hiking, among other services, with lines sometimes out the doors during cruise ship season.
“We are not staffing it this year due to limited staff availability,” Sean Bonnage, public affairs assistant for Acadia, told us in an email. “We don’t have plans to staff it in the future, although ideally we would like to.”
The Village Green Information Center is owned by the town of Bar Harbor and is leased as an operations center to Downeast Transportation, the nonprofit that operates the Island Explorer on Mount Desert Island. It is still being used as an operations center this year, with the Island Explorer operating a full schedule for the first time since 2019, and is open to the public, only with no rangers present for Acadia visitor services. It was first staffed by rangers 20 years ago.
Former ranger cites loss of Village Green customer service
Fournier, who worked as a seasonal ranger at the Village Green center from 2011 to 2019, said it’s a shame the Village Green Information Center is not open again with rangers on board.
“We certainly did not sell as many weekly passes as the Hulls Cove Visitor Center or the Sand Beach Entrance Station, but I believe it was our customer service and representation of Acadia in the downtown which proved our worth and value,” she told us.
Acadia National Park usually hires about 150 seasonal workers but this year is at about 120, Superintendent Kevin Schneider told the Acadia National Park Advisory Commission on June 1 during a Zoom meeting. Those numbers have not changed since then the meeting, according to Bonnage.
Schneider attributed much of the worker shortage for Acadia visitor services to a lack of employee housing, with the park currently only offering 75 beds for the seasonal workforce. Employee housing is needed to help make the area affordable for the local workforce, according to the superintendent.
Schneider said he is supporting a bill in Congress by US Sen. Angus King that would allow the park to build new staff housing on 15 acres of an undeveloped 55-acre parcel in Town Hill once planned for a solid-waste transfer station. Under the bill, the park would transfer 40 acres of that parcel to the town of Bar Harbor to be used as island-wide affordable housing.
Cadillac summit road closed overnight to protect vehicle reservations
Schneider said that partly because of a shortage of seasonal staff, the park is closing the 1,530-foot Cadillac summit to vehicles after vehicle reservations end for the day. The decision was also partly done to prevent people from attempting to evade the vehicle reservation system by entering Cadillac before reservations start for the day, according to Schneider.
Park staff discussed the matter during the winter after the first full year of vehicle reservations on Cadillac in 2021, he said. “Unfortunately, what we were seeing was that people were going up there before we opened at 4 in the morning, believe it or not, to try to watch the sun rise and essentially…defeat the sunrise reservation,” he said. “What it came down to in part was trying to prevent that, but also staffing.”
Howie Motenko, a commission member, questioned the closure of Cadillac Mountain to vehicles during non-reservation hours. He said some people would like to drive up the mountain at midnight.
“I am trying to read through this [the park’s transportation plan] to see what the intent was four years ago but it never felt like the intent was to close off areas for public use, especially when they are not being overutilized,” Motenko said.
The National Park Service requires a $6 vehicle reservation and park entrance pass for cars to enter Cadillac, the highest mountain on the eastern seaboard, and park on the summit.
The NPS closes the summit road to exiting vehicles at 10 pm, giving people some time for stargazing before they have to drive back down. Vehicles can currently enter Cadillac with a reservation starting at 4 am for sunrise and then up to about 8:30 pm. Hikers and bikers can still climb to the mountain for sunrise, sunset or at any other time of the day without the need for a reservation.
Cadillac summit closure to be reviewed by park service
Schneider said the park’s shortage of seasonal employees this year includes a fee collection staff that is down 12 people. From the standpoint of staffing levels, it is simpler to close Cadillac overnight, he said.
Schneider said the park would evaluate the system. “This year is sort of a trial year to try night time closure,” he said. “We are seeing how that goes.”
In addition to being down 12 on the fee collection staff, the park also could not hire as many seasonal rangers as it needs for Acadia visitor services including helping answer questions from visitors at the Hulls Cove Visitor Center and providing programs. The park is also short on trail crew workers and a couple of seasonal law enforcement rangers, he said.
“We have no lifeguards this year unfortunately at Sand Beach or Echo Lake,” he said. “That ties into a national shortage of lifeguards.”
“It makes it challenging for us when we are short-staffed and dealing with the volume of visitation,” Schneider said.
Through June, visits to Acadia are down only about 7.5 percent from 2021 when an annual record was set at 4.069 million, according to the NPS.
Sand Beach and elsewhere pushed for stargazing instead of Cadillac
With Cadillac closed at night, Schneider said the park is encouraging people to visit Sand Beach or other spots in the park where it’s good to watch the stars at Acadia National Park. And while the Acadia Night Sky Festival line-up of events for Sept. 21-25 is not yet available, in the past, star-watching parties have been held at locations other than atop Cadillac.
Adjustments are also needed to deal with the absence of rangers at the Village Green Information Center, located on Firefly Lane across from the town green.
Paul Murphy, executive director of Downeast Transportation, said people can still come inside the Village Green operations center to ask for information. But they won’t find rangers or the wide array of Acadia visitor services provided in the past.
The center used to be staffed with two rangers who were busy seven days a week from mid-May until the holiday weekend in October, serving a wide variety of visitors, especially those who were staying in the Bar Harbor village area, according to Robbins Fournier.
“We worked well and closely with our Island Explorer partners and drivers who always considered we rangers as instrumental members of their team,” she wrote in an email. “We complemented each other. I worry about the burden Island Explorer [employees] have to bear now that rangers are no longer there.”
Acadia visitor services offered in winter in downtown Bar Harbor
Rangers do work in downtown Bar Harbor from Nov. 1 to mid-April to provide information and Acadia visitor services during the winter at the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce. The Hulls Cove Visitor Center is closed during that time.
The Village Green Information Center was shut down, along with Island Explorer services, during the pandemic in 2020. The center did not open in 2021 when the Island Explorer ran a reduced schedule carrying only about half its annual pre-pandemic ridership.
If people are in downtown Bar Harbor and need to purchase an entrance pass in person, they can buy weekly passes at Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce at the corner of Cottage and Main streets. The park is also encouraging people to buy passes online at Recreation.gov, or in person at the Hulls Cove center, the Sand Beach Entrance Station, park campgrounds or, aside from the Bar Harbor chamber, at these other third-party sellers:
- Cadillac Mountain Gift Shop
- Jordan Pond Gift Shop
- Acadia Regional Chamber of Commerce at Thompson Island
- Southwest Harbor/Tremont Chamber of Commerce
- Ellsworth Chamber of Commerce