Cadillac Mountain may be the best spot for sunrise in Acadia National Park, or maybe even the entire US. Just try to get a ticket to the show – it can be as hard as scoring an entry to a Taylor Swift concert.
Another sold-out crowd for sunrise on Cadillac Mountain in August 2022 (Photo by Kate Sheehan)
A $6 reservation is required to drive a car up Cadillac summit from late May to late October and virtually 100 percent of the tickets were sold out over the online reservation system for sunrise during 2021 and 2022. The demand for a parking spot on Cadillac during sunrise is so intense that tickets can “literally sell out in seconds,” the superintendent of the park told the Acadia National Park Advisory Commission last year.
In 2022, for example, NPS statistics show that there were 21,895 tickets available for sunrise on Cadillac and 21,882 were sold.
Leah Bullard was one of the lucky ones to land a ticket for the best spot for sunrise in Acadia. The Alexandria, Va., woman said she set an alarm for the 10 am start of availability for advance purchase of tickets at recreation.gov for a May 31 sunrise on Cadillac, and then kept refreshing the page once the tickets became available. In about two minutes, she got one.
“Everyone told me, ‘The one thing you need to do in Acadia is see the sunrise from Cadillac’,” Bullard said in an interview. “It was beautiful.”
The rising sun shines on Leah Bullard atop Cadillac Mountain on May 31, 2023. Bullard said friends told her that sunrise on Cadillac was the “one thing” she needed to do in Acadia National Park. (Photo provided by Leah Bullard)
UPDATE 6/15: Retired Acadia National Park trail crew foreman cites byzantine hiring practices as reason for Acadia staff shortage.
Acadia National Park is planning to build 50 to 60 units of new housing in Bar Harbor for seasonal workers off Kebo Street, in a bid to reduce a severe Acadia staff shortage in the half-year workers.
These existing 1960s-style apartment units for Acadia National Park seasonal employees would be built out to 50 to 60 units under a park plan for the property off Kebo Street in Bar Harbor.
Brandon Bies, deputy superintendent of Acadia National Park, said the park hired 114 seasonal workers so far this year, when it advertised for hiring 174 to work typically from April to October. Bies said the staff shortfall is coming when the park is “going to be right up there” around 4 million visits for the third year in a row, straining resources.
December is usually a slow time of year in Acadia National Park. But with the National Park Service proposing a 27 percent increase in the Acadia annual pass next year, the park holiday tradition of selling the annual entrance pass for about half price is bringing out the bargain hunters.
Get the Acadia annual pass for about half price in December, while they last, before the proposed 27 percent price increase in 2023. (NPS image)
The Acadia annual pass is currently on sale for $28 during the month of December. People can buy multiple discounted annual passes and many are buying them for holiday gifts, according to people selling the passes at three local chambers of commerce and four town offices. Also, there is a limited number available of annual passes at the reduced price and it’s possible they could sell out, at least at several locations, in the wake of the the NPS’s Nov. 29 announcement of its proposal to hike entrance fees at Acadia in 2023, people said.
“They are selling like hot cakes,” said Brianna Mitchell, deputy town clerk in Gouldsboro, which offers the discounted passes, and which includes Acadia’s Bar Island within its borders. “I am trying to tell people, if they call, to try and grab one sooner rather than later.”
The yearly sale of the pass is always popular, but Mitchell agreed the proposed fee increase for 2023 may be spurring some sales of the discounted pass this year.
The park’s Sand Beach Entrance Station is the primary location for sales of the discounted Acadia annual pass. The entrance station is open year-round and is planned to operate seven days a week in the winter, depending on staffing, with core hours 9 am to 3 pm during December, said John T. Kelly, management assistant in the superintendent’s office at Acadia National Park. “There is a limit, but I can’t predict whether they will sell out,” Kelly said of the discounted passes.
Making your list, checking it twice, and looking for special Maine or Acadia holiday gift ideas for someone nice?
Here’s a special selection, whether to support local business, help raise funds for charity, or bring memories of Maine and Acadia home for the holidays.
Now that an entrance fee is required at Acadia year-round, an annual pass, regular price of $55, is a great gift idea for anyone who plans on visiting at least twice, as it’s $30 for a 1-week pass. (NPS image)
Acadia National Park annual pass – Available for purchase online, the $55 annual pass has also traditionally been sold at “almost-half-price,” or $28, during the month of December at locations in and around Bar Harbor. According to the National Park Service, the discounted pass will be available for sale in person only at chambers of commerce on Mount Desert island and Ellsworth, the Sand Beach Entrance Station in Acadia and at local town offices in Gouldsboro, Mount Desert, Tremont, Winter Harbor and Blue Hill. Most locations will take only cash or checks payable to the National Park Service. The pass is good for 12 months from the date of purchase.
Friends of Acadia gift membership – By giving a gift membership, you would provide a year’s worth of membership benefits to a family member or friend, including a subscription to Acadia magazine, the Friends of Acadia Journal, six note cards, and a window decal. Gift membership starts at $40, and also helps support the nonprofit that does so much for Acadia National Park. And if you want to donate independent of a gift membership, contribute on Giving Tuesday, Nov. 29, a global day of being charitably minded.
You’re more likely to spot a moose in Baxter State Park than in Acadia, but you’ll see a moose every month of the year with this calendar. (Photo courtesy of Moose Prints Gallery & Gifts)
Moose calendar – Few things say Maine like moose, but while you’re unlikely to see one of these magnificent mammals in Acadia, you can easily find them in the Katahdin region, as Millinocket wildlife photographer Mark Picard shows in his iconic moose calendar, which has been featured by BBC and PBS. A copy of this calendar is one of the giveaways for participants in the Acadia to Katahdin Virtual Race, see below for details about how to enter the race to help raise funds for Acadia and Katahdin region charities. You can also order gift cards, sign up for photo workshops and order fine art prints online at Moose Prints Gallery & Gifts.
UPDATE on 2/8/2023:Nickerson O’Day of Brewer today submitted the low bid of $27,653,784.59 to construct the Acadia Gateway welcome center and transit hub in Trenton and will begin working with the state to secure the contract for the long-awaited project.
Like most MaineDOT projects, the state is aiming to award the contract to the low bidder, according to William Pulver, chief operating officer and deputy chief engineer for MaineDOT.
“The next step in our typical low bid process is an internal evaluation of the bids received and a review of any required bid submittals from the low bidder,” Pulver wrote. “Following that review, a recommendation is made to the Commissioner’s office.”
Under the state bid process, it should take about 6 weeks to award the contract if all is in order.
The Maine Department of Transportation said it expects to break ground in 2023 on a new state-of-the-art, $32 million welcome center and transit hub for Acadia National Park and the region, marking a big step forward in a strategy to get more visitors to use the park’s fare-free shuttle and reduce traffic congestion.
This design shows Island Explorer buses picking up visitors from the planned Acadia Gateway Center’s intermodal and welcome center, with a current state estimate of $32 million for the project. (NPS image)
The MaineDOT this week officially advertised for bids for a contractor to construct the national park welcome center and intermodal facility off Route 3 in Trenton about three miles north of the bridge to Mount Desert Island. The bids were scheduled to be publicly opened and read on Jan. 4 in Augusta but the bid opening was recently changed to Jan. 18, and then delayed again until Jan. 25, and postponed again to Feb. 8, according to the MaineDOT web site. The winner must agree to complete work by May 3, 2025 for the project, estimated by the department to cost $32.076 million.
Paul Merrill, director of communications for the MaineDOT, said the department expects groundbreaking for the Acadia Gateway welcome center and intermodal facility to happen in the first half of 2023. The MaineDOT would own the project, which would be funded mostly by federal transit aid, in addition to $4 million from the National Park Service, state money and $1 million from the Friends of Acadia, a partner in planning since 2004.
After 20 years of planning, construction of a new $24 million Acadia National Park welcome center and transit hub could be completed in 2025, providing visitors a major new way to take the fare-free shuttle to the park and help reduce crowds and traffic problems.
This design shows Island Explorer buses picking up visitors from the planned Acadia Gateway Center’s intermodal transportation and welcome center. (NPS image)
The Acadia Gateway Center, which is a project of the Maine Department of Transportation, will serve as an intermodal transportation hub and offer a 11,000 square-foot welcome center. The center will boast high beamed ceilings, huge windows and a new busway for the park’s Island Explorer shuttle and commercial tour buses right outside the doors, a National Park Service official said.
The national park welcome center will be “an attraction in itself,” said John Kelly, management assistant at Acadia National Park, and comes when Acadia drew more than 4 million visits in 2021 and parking was tighter than ever inside the park. The new welcome center, when built, would operate along with the existing Hulls Cove Visitor Center.
In a new boost for the project, the Maine Department of Transportation, in a construction advertising schedule for 2022, says it will seek bids in December to construct the Acadia Gateway intermodal and welcome center, earmarking $26.2 million for the project.
Kelly released new slides that display the expansive interior of the national park welcome center with cathedral ceilings, as well as a new overall site plan that shows the busway and parking. Two hundred and fifty new parking spaces with 32 spaces for electric vehicles behind the center are also planned, Kelly said.
Acadia National Park is collecting entrance fees during the winter for the first time this year, raising more than $500,000 as of January to help retain staff and fund plowing and other winter services.
A visit to Acadia in winter now means having to pay a park entrance fee (NPS image)
In a change that started Nov. 1, Acadia National Park entrance fees are now required year-round and the park is staffing the Sand Beach Entrance Station seven days a week for the first time in the winter. Previously, the park required an entrance pass only between May 1 and October 31 and there was no charge between Nov. 1 and April 30.
Winter visits nearly doubled over the past decade, helping spur Acadia to start charging the fees.
“We did not collect entrance fees in the winter in the past, but it has gone very, very smoothly,” Acadia Superintendent Kevin Schneider said during an online meeting of the Acadia National Park Advisory Commission this month. “We have not gotten a lot of pushback from park visitors, which is great. People have embraced entrance fees I think and understand the importance of it.”
UPDATE on 2/15/2022: Reaction from Jack Russell was added.
UPDATE on 2/18/2022: Gary Stellpflug thanks people for their comments on his planned retirement.
Gary J. Stellpflug, longtime foreman of the Acadia National Park Trails Crew, said he is planning to retire from the National Park Service this year, after leading a sweeping rehabilitation of the historic Acadia hiking trails during his tenure.
Gary Stellpflug, Acadia trails foreman, inspects the damage done to a bridge on the Hadlock Brook Trail by an “exceptional” storm on June 9, 2021, attributed by the National Park Service to climate change. (Photo courtesy of Gary Stellpflug)
“I’ve been here long enough,” Stellpflug said in an exclusive interview. “It’s time for somebody else to step in.”
He said there is no exact date for his retirement, but it will be before the start of a new fiscal year on Oct. 1. He said he wants to help in a transition to a new Acadia hiking trails foreman and is working with Keith Johnston, chief of maintenance, on a succession plan.
Stellpflug, who has been foreman of the Acadia trails crew for more than 35 years, helped launch a major effort to restore and maintain Acadia hiking trails after Acadia became the first national park in the country with an endowment for a trail system.
Note: November also marked a new high in visits for Acadia National Park. Statistics, reported by the NPS after publication of this story, show 76,251 visits in November, up 66 percent from 2019. The total for 2020 through November is 2.65 million, down 23 percent from 2019.
Visits skyrocketed in October at Acadia National Park, clogging the park with a record amount of traffic fueled by an unusually younger crowd with time to spend and an apparent hunger for the outdoors during the pandemic.
About 4,000 vehicle reservations were sold for Sunday, Oct. 11 at Acadia National Park including those for people who crowded together on the viewing platform at Thunder Hole.
While visits to the entire park rose by 10 percent in October, visits to the Mount Desert Island section of the park , jumped to 450,675, up by an eye-popping 27 percent from the same month in 2019, despite the loss of cruise ship passengers from Bar Harbor, according to the National Park Service. Sixty thousand vehicles entered the park at Sand Beach in October at Acadia, the highest-ever count for the month in records going back to 1990, an NPS report said.
The surge of people in October at Acadia means the park is on pace to log more than 2.6 million visits for 2020, or about 800,000 less than 2019 with 3.43 million visits, and about 900,000 less than the 3.53 million that set a visitation record in 2018. Travel restrictions in Maine helped reduce visits to Acadia early in the season, and the total for the year is set to drop to its lowest in about five years, but with the reduction still much less than initially expected.
Acadia National Park Superintendent Kevin Schneider said October typically attracts a lot of newlyweds and retirees to the park. This year during the pandemic, the newlyweds still came, but there were fewer retirees, he added.
Acadia National Park Superintendent Kevin Schneider said that a trial run of a parking reservation program for the Sand Beach area caused confusion among many visitors and led to “unintended consequences” such as increased traffic congestion in some nearby residential areas.
Acadia National Park Superintendent Kevin Schneider responded to the Bar Harbor Town Council’s concerns about the vehicle reservation program (NPS photo)
“I think that is part of the reason why we are holding off on trying to move forward with Ocean Drive next year,” Schneider told members of the Bar Harbor Town Council during a videoconference meeting. “We did see those impacts. That is not something we want to see happen outside the park.”
He said park officials would consider moving the entrance for the popular Sand Beach area and other changes to improve the parking reservation program and reduce the impact.
Schneider took some flak from councilors about the troubled pilot of the reservation effort for Sand Beach, Thunder Hole and other sites along a one-way, two-mile stretch of the Park Loop Road called Ocean Drive.
Acadia National Park’s test drive of a vehicle reservation system for the spectacular Ocean Drive and Sand Beach area caused so many problems last month – one town official called it a “nightmare” – that it’s being postponed to 2022 at the earliest.
Acadia National Park superintendent Kevin Schneider is scheduled to update Bar Harbor Town Council on the vehicle reservation system on Nov. 17 (NPS photo)
In the wake of the criticism, Acadia National Park Superintendent Kevin Schneider is scheduled to update the Bar Harbor Town Council on the park’s transportation plan during a videoconference meeting of the council on Tuesday, Nov. 17. The meeting is open to the public via local cable TV or live streaming on the town’s web site.
Acadia still intends to require reservations next year to drive up Cadillac Mountain, another aspect of the test drive that ran from Oct. 1 to 18, but the part of the vehicle reservation system providing access to the spectacular two-mile Ocean Drive and Sand Beach area won’t go into effect in 2021 as originally planned.
Matthew Hochman, vice chair of the Bar Harbor Town Council, said in a Facebook message that the reservation system for Cadillac Mountain overall worked well, but the Ocean Drive part of the trial run was “a nightmare” and caused more problems than it solved, especially along Schooner Head Overlook and a residential street near the Sand Beach Entrance Station.
“Schooner Head Road was a nightmare,” Hochman wrote, adding it was his personal opinion. “I was out there one day and the section from the overlook back towards the Great Head parking was impassable, there were so many cars.”
This month, more than 20 park staff and consultants met virtually to reach agreement on a vehicle reservation system for 2021 that dropped longtime plans to include Ocean Drive and Sand Beach.
Motorists with reservations created a long line of parked cars along Ocean Drive during a test run for the vehicle reservation system at Acadia National Park in October. This part of the park’s transportation plan has been postponed to 2022 at the earliest.
Kerrie Molloy and John Candela visited Bar Harbor last month to unwind after working on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic in New York, but the longtime nurses instead faced a new crisis in a horrifying Acadia hiking accident while descending Pemetic Mountain.
MDI Search & Rescue veteran Steven Hudson, wearing an orange shirt and white helmet, helps save Kerrie Molloy, seriously injured in a slip and fall on the west side of Pemetic Mountain. Molloy and her significant other, John Candela, can be seen below Hudson in the lower center right of the photo. Hudson and other rescue personnel are wearing masks for safety during the pandemic. (Photo by MDI Search & Rescue team member Lili Pew)
Molloy suffered three broken ribs, a punctured lung and fractured bones when she said she slipped on gravel and tumbled over rocks and boulders for about 15 to 20 feet down a precipitous section of the Pemetic Northwest Trail in the early afternoon on July 25. After summiting Pemetic, the two experienced hikers were close to finishing their first-ever hike in Acadia National Park. Just about 0.3 mile from the Park Loop Road, Molloy said she was surprised by the treacherous terrain on that section of the trail.
“I was terrified as I fell…. I kept rolling, wondering when I was going to stop,” Molloy said in a phone interview while recuperating at her Staten Island home.
Molloy, a nurse practitioner in urgent care for Advantage Care Physicians in New York, stressed that she is grateful for the “amazing” work of volunteers with MDI Search & Rescue in carrying her safely off the mountain after completing a rope-and-pulley rescue, responders from the Bar Harbor Fire Department and the chief surgeon at Mount Desert Island Hospital. Molloy said it’s the first time in her more than 30 years in nursing that she found herself on the other side of the table in the operating room.
John Candela and Kerrie Molloy stand on the peak of Pemetic Mountain in Acadia on July 25. Molloy later suffered serious injuries during the descent of the peak. (Photo courtesy of John Candela and Kerrie Molloy)
Candela, who lives with Molloy in a longstanding relationship, said he was hiking a little in front of Molloy and scoping out the steep section of trail for a safe way down when he heard her scream. He said he did not see her slip but he watched in fear as she bounced and hit rocks before landing on a ledge against the exposed roots and dirt at the base of a fallen tree.
“I was in shock,” said Candela, who was carrying a backpack with food and water for the both of them. “I was afraid for her because I could see that she was getting seriously hurt as she was falling.”
Acadia National Park saw a sharp drop in visits in June, but crowds are steadily returning to Acadia during the pandemic, with rescues of hikers and recent closures to relieve traffic on Cadillac underlining plans for a dry run of a vehicle reservation system in October, Superintendent Kevin Scheider said this week.
Acadia amid COVID-19: Another in a series (NPS photo)
The test of the reservation system, announced before the pandemic struck, is scheduled for Oct. 1 to Oct. 18 and will require people to make reservations to drive and park at two locations – Cadillac Mountain and past the Sand Beach Entrance Station to Ocean Drive and Sand Beach, Schneider said.
“With the pandemic in many respects I think it is going to be an even better year to do it,” Schneider said.
He said several other parks are using reservation systems this summer during the pandemic. To manage congestion, prevent crowding and achieve social distancing, Rocky Mountain and Yosemite national parks started vehicle reservation systems and Zion National Park is requiring new tickets on shuttles.
To access those two areas in Acadia during the dry run, the park will soon release information about how people can make reservations at recreation.gov, the same online system currently used for reservations at National Park Service campgrounds and vehicle reservation systems at other parks, he said.
During a “Community COVID-19 Forum,” a Zoom webinar by the town of Bar Harbor, Schneider said online entrance pass sales have doubled this year for Acadia. He also discussed the closed Blackwoods and Schoodic Woods campgrounds, which on Wednesday were declared shut down by the NPS for all of 2020, dashing hopes they could open as early as Aug. 1.
The park’s two other campgrounds, Seawall and Duck Harbor on Isle au Haut, were earlier announced as not opening this year. As a reason, Schneider referred to the park’s shortage of custodians to clean bathrooms and the large number of people who share a bathroom at a campground.
No camping at Schoodic Woods or any of the other Acadia campgrounds this year. (Image courtesy of Recreation.gov)
Update: In an important boost for the struggling hospitality industry in Bar Harbor, the Maine governor on July 1 exempted residents of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut from restrictions that require people traveling into Maine to either quarantine or test negative for the virus. The governor noted that the prevalence of the virus in these three states is similar to Maine and continues a downward trend. Starting July 3, residents of NY, NJ and the Nutmeg state join New Hampshire and Vermont residents, who were previously exempt from the travel restrictions.
A leading business group says Bar Harbor faces a “catastrophic closing of businesses” and a tourism season that is “all but lost” after a spate of new lodging cancellations caused by the Maine quarantine order and other tough new restrictions on out-of-state visitors this summer.
Acadia amid COVID-19: Another in a series (NPS photo)
Starting June 26, according to the executive order issued by Maine Gov. Janet Mills last week, people who travel into Maine and check into Maine lodging, campgrounds, seasonal rentals or Airbnbs will be asked to sign a certificate of compliance saying that they tested negative for coronavirus within 72 hours of arrival, will quarantine in Maine for 14 days on arrival, or that they have already completed their quarantine in Maine. A final certificate of compliance was released on June 12.
The Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors voted unanimously in opposition to Gov. Janet Mills’s new “Keep Maine Healthy” plan. The chamber asked Mills to reconsider, saying her plan is unworkable and too onerous for most visitors to comply.
“With each new update to the requirements for visitors, our lodging establishments receive an influx of cancellations,” wrote Alf Anderson, executive director of the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce, in a message sent to the 420 members of the chamber after the board vote. “Guests who are waiting for news that they will be allowed to travel to Maine without burdensome restrictions are forced to give up hope and cancel their existing reservations.”
The Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce’s website overlays a message, “Keeping Bar Harbor Safe During the COVID-19 Era,” on this otherwise picturesque scene. (Image courtesy of Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce)
Because of its more remote location on Mount Desert Island, Bar Harbor has an economy that depends on overnight guests including many coming to visit nearby Acadia National Park.
Acadia opened some services like the Park Loop Road on June 1 to kick off a season that is expected to see lower visitation because of the Maine quarantine order.
Campgrounds at Acadia remain closed until at least July 1 and the operation of the Island Explorer, the park’s fare-free shuttle system, which usually starts June 23, is indefinitely postponed.
Two aspects of park operations are affected by Keep Maine Healthy. First, a 14-day quarantine for out-of-state visitors is still in effect, the park says. Second, is that gatherings of more than 50 people are prohibited through August.
“The website is being worked on since the information about quarantining is a bit more nuanced now,” Christie Anastasia, public affairs specialist at Acadia, wrote in an email. “We are doing our part in helping the state of Maine share information related to COVID-19.”
Facing a projected decline in visits and revenues from entrance and concession fees, Acadia National Park during the pandemic is opening the Park Loop Road to traffic and offering limited visitor services on June 1, a month and a half later than normal, and bracing for an unprecedented year.
Acadia amid COVID-19: First in a series (NPS photo)
Acadia’s season with coronavirus will launch with a closed Hulls Cove Visitor Center, the indefinite postponement of the park’s fare-free shuttle system and a quarantine restriction that stymies most people traveling from other states.
Campgrounds at Acadia National Park during the pandemic are shut down at least through June, new signs will promote social distancing and, starting Monday, rangers will be wearing masks to provide visitor information in open-air tents near the visitor center – but they won’t be selling park passes, as visitors must purchase them online and print a copy ahead of time. The Cadillac Mountain summit is open with no virus-related parking restrictions.
In the wake of the slowest Memorial Day weekend he’s ever witnessed in the area, Fred Ehrlenbach of Trenton, chairman of the Acadia Advisory Commission, predicted that visits and revenues will be down for the national park, which recorded 3.4 million visits in 2019. He cited the looming recession and COVID-19.