These stories are another installment in “A view from Bubble Rock,” a periodic collection of news items about Acadia National Park and related topics. If you have news you’d like included as part of the series, leave a comment below, or contact us through the “About Us” page.
Note: The Thompson Island and Bear Brook picnic areas opened in September 2020 after being closed during the pandemic.
When Patrice T. Robitaille, a Washington economist, returned to her native Maine, she thought of taking her 85-year-old mother to the dramatic coast of the Thompson Island Picnic Area in Acadia National Park this summer. The family has some nice memories from the 1960s and 1970s when they would take the trip from their home in the Bangor area for a family picnic on Thompson Island or a visit to the nearby Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound.
But after driving to Acadia National Park during the pandemic, Robitaille said in a phone interview that she was surprised and disappointed to find only a locked gate at an entrance road to the island picnic area.
Known for its vast flats at low tide, access to the shore and ocean views, the Thompson Island picnic area is located off a causeway on Route 3, about 10 miles north of the main part of the park on Mount Desert Island.
Thompson Island also has rest rooms with stalls and flush toilets and like all rest rooms, it needs to be cleaned more frequently during the pandemic. Thompson Island Picnic area is closed partly because Acadia National Park is dealing with a lean custodial staff to clean many park bathrooms and recently attempted without much luck to hire more custodians.
The parking lot at the Thompson Island Picnic Area is empty while the area is closed during the pandemic at Acadia National Park.
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.”
UPDATED 6/9/2020: Gov. Janet Mills announced on June 8 a draft “Keep Maine Healthy” plan to provide an alternative to the 14-day Maine quarantine for out-of-state visitors, summary and links to the draft plan below. You can certify you received a negative COVID-19 test no earlier than 72 hours before your visit instead of quarantining on-site for 14 days, beginning July 1, according to the draft. Out-of-state day trippers or through travelers from New Hampshire and Vermont are exempt from all quarantine or negative COVID-19 test requirements immediately, and for Maine lodging beginning June 12.
For Deni Farr, who lives in a small town in South Carolina, it’s been an emotional roller coaster to plan an Acadia National Park visit during a Maine quarantine order, with ups and downs that often left her drained and unsettled.
Acadia amid COVID-19: Another in a series (NPS photo)
Maine is requiring out of state tourists to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival, and that is unrealistic for most short-term visitors like Farr. The quarantine is discouraging many and creating uncertainty and new doubts about vacations at Acadia National Park, which opened the Park Loop Road to traffic on June 1.
Last August, Farr and two friends reserved a cottage at Hutchins Cottages at Acadia in Southwest Harbor for a trip in June, but they just canceled those plans on advice of the owner. They now are booked for July when there is a chance the Maine quarantine order will be lifted or eased to allow outdoor activities like Acadia National Park hiking.
Deni Farr with a canine friend, is shown while waiting for the fare-free shuttle Island Explorer during a 2016 visit to Acadia National Park. (Photo courtesy of Deni Farr)
It was upsetting to kill their initial plans, Farr said. All three women basically just want to hike and June would be be perfect for hiking in the only national park in the Northeast, she said.
“It’s been stressful,” said Farr, of Bluffton, South Carolina. “Are we going? Are we not going?”
The women switched car rental and plane tickets a couple of times and wrestled with packing toilet paper, food and spices to cope with the limits of the quarantine. They asked for a rental car with Maine license plates because of reports that some people in Maine are harassing outsiders.
Because people traveling into the state must comply with the Maine quarantine in an executive order by Gov. Janet Mills, Farr and thousands of others are changing or altering their plans for a vacation. The quarantine order, part of the effort to fight the spread of coronavirus, only allows people to leave isolation basically for medical reasons.
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.
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.
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.” Continue reading →