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Physically disabled persons praise, question access to Acadia

During a recent visit to Acadia National Park, Shirley Beck, who has multiple sclerosis, said she was “very pleased” to find a paved path that allowed her to reach a viewing platform at the Cadillac Mountain summit with her light three-wheel electric scooter.

Shirley Beck, a pediatric physical therapist, on the Cadillac Mountain summit.

Shirley Beck, a pediatric physical therapist from Arlington, Va., who has multiple sclerosis, or MS, said she was very pleased to find a paved path that allowed her to reach a viewing platform at the Cadillac Mountain summit with her small electric scooter.

“It’s pretty good,” said Beck, a pediatric physical therapist from Arlington, Va., after taking in the sweeping vista of Frenchman Bay, islands and distant summits on the mainland.

Beck said she is grateful to Acadia officials for making the peak of Cadillac accessible and praised them for building the pink-granite path for physically disabled persons.  Before reaching the viewing platform, the path loops around steps and directly passes by a plaque of the first National Park Service director, Stephen Mather, who was periodically disabled by manic-depression, and was a contemporary of Acadia founder George B. Dorr, who became blind in his later years.

Beck, who visited Acadia while traveling with her husband, Roy, on a cruise ship, said she was not able to get quite as full of an experience at another key Acadia landmark, Thunder Hole. An accessible ramp leads to the upper viewing area of Thunder Hole for physically disabled persons, but not down to the lower area next to the sea cavern itself.

“The path was easy to use that got me part way down,” she wrote in a follow-up email. “I’m not sure how they could provide a way to get farther than that.”

While Beck only visited Acadia briefly, her experience was similar to that of some other physically disabled persons who travel to the Maine national park.

Acadia National Park has 45 miles of even-surface carriage roads,  trails, sites and facilities that are available to wheelchair users but others that are not wheelchair-accessible such as Sand Beach, which is below a high bluff and does not have a ramp for physically disabled persons. Citing the terrain, the park service has determined that it is not feasible to build ramps down next to Thunder Hole itself or to Sand Beach.

Stairs to Sand Beach in Acadia National Park

These upgraded cement stairs provide the main access to Sand Beach, but are too difficult to navigate for many disabled people, such as Helen Franke of Wellington, Fla, who uses a cane and was stymied at the top.

But Helen Franke, a retired college administrator from Wellington, Fla., said she believed a gradual ramp at Sand Beach might be possible to accommodate physically disabled persons. “For something like this, I think they could,” she said, after stopping at the top of the stairs with a cane she needs to use.

Across the nation, access for people with disabilities is a key issue in outdoor recreation including the 59 national parks, which are required by the federal Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) to adopt accessibility standards for the design, construction, and alteration of facilities covered by the law.

About a month after he was confirmed this year as U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke said in a release that “it’s time to start thinking about accessibility and infrastructure” and that “we will remain focused on increasing access” for physically disabled persons and other people with disabilities in national parks. Continue reading

Traffic triggers closures of Cadillac Mountain summit road

Acadia National Park temporarily closed the road to the Cadillac Mountain summit to incoming vehicles seven different times on Sunday and Monday, underscoring the need for a comprehensive transportation plan at the park, according to a park official.

Amanda Dilley, visitor service assistant at Acadia National Park

Amanda Dilley, one of four new visitor service assistants for Acadia National Park, monitors a long line of traffic at the summit of Cadillac Mountain on Monday. Park officials temporarily closed the popular mountain to incoming motorists on four separate occasions that day.

Because of traffic congestion during the busy July 4 weekend, even a quieter side of the park – the Schoodic section – saw a closure for about 90 minutes on Sunday on the road between the entrance to Schoodic Education and Research Center (SERC) and Schoodic Point, according to a table of official road closures.

Ocean Drive, which provides access to Sand Beach, was closed a little more than 15 minutes on Monday afternoon.

John T. Kelly, management assistant at Acadia National Park, said his feeling is that the closures are “making our transportation plan all that more pertinent.”

The National Park Service is developing a new transportation plan and considering several preliminary ideas to relieve Acadia traffic congestion and boost safety during peak visitation, including a reservation system for cars to drive up Cadillac or to park at Jordan Pond.

The Cadillac Mountain summit attracted many visitors on Sunday and Monday, which were both sunny days following a couple of overcast days. The road to Cadillac was closed three times on Sunday, including for about 90 minutes near the sun set, when the peak is a big draw, and four separate times on Monday, including again for about an hour because of crowds during a spectacular sun set.

There were no closures on Saturday, a cloudy day, or July 4, when many visitors apparently left.

Kelly said the Cadillac Mountain summit road is closed to further incoming cars when traffic is bumper to bumper from the parking lot at the peak to the Blue Hill Overlook. The overlook is about a quarter of a mile from the lot at the Cadillac Mountain summit.

Kelly said none of the closures lasted a very long time.

“While it is a disruption for sure for the visitor, it is not catastrophic,” he said.

acadia national park

Good weather and crowds contributed to temporary road shutdowns throughout Acadia during the July 4 weekend.

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Acadia Centennial helps draw record 3.2 million park visitors

The Acadia Centennial has helped attract more than 3.2 million visitors so far to the national park this year, capped by record attendance for October.

acadia national park hiking

Views like these along Jordan Pond in October helped draw record crowds to Acadia this year.

An eye-popping 412,416 people visited during October, up 19.8 percent from last year’s monthly record of 344,362, according to statistics from the National Park Service.

Through October, visitors during the Acadia Centennial totaled 3.234 million, up 17.7 percent from last year. Depending on the weather, visitation could total 3.3 million for this year, said John T. Kelly, management assistant for Acadia.

Kelly said visitation this year reached 3 million for the first time since at least 1990, when the park changed the way it counts visitors. The previous record since 1990 was 2.845 million in 1995, according to the federal statistics.

Some good aspects of the crowds are that people came to enjoy the park and the park therefore collected more revenues from entrance fees and local businesses saw a boost, but the downsides include traffic congestion during peak periods.

crowds in acadia

Crowds in Acadia can make for an unpleasant experience as seen here on the Park Loop Road and Ocean Path. (NPS photo)

Visitation during the summer of the Acadia Centennial produced some staggering numbers.  In September, visitation was 570,434, up 19 percent from the same month last year; August, 735,945, up 10 percent; July, 696,854, up 15 percent; and June, 445,410 up 24 percent.

Visitors to the Schoodic Peninsula, the only section of the park on the mainland, reached 276,233 through October, up 31 percent from 210,549 during the same 10 months last year. More people went to Schoodic because of the new Schoodic Woods Campground and more than 8 miles of new bike paths.
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Acadia campers fired up over Schoodic Woods Campground

At the new Schoodic Woods Campground in Acadia National Park, Bill Mulvey paused to admire his site as he and his son, Pat, set up their tent last week.

Bill Mulvey of Phoenixville, Pa. and his son, Pat Mulvey, pitch their tent at the Schoodic Woods Campground.

Bill Mulvey of Phoenixville, Pa., left, and his son, Pat Mulvey of Philadelphia, right, begin pitching their tent at the Schoodic Woods Campground at Acadia National Park after arriving on the day of the 100th anniversary of Acadia.

Mulvey, a retired assistant manager for a supermarket company, said he reserved the site about a month before arriving on a Friday for the weekend and it was the only spot available at the “very popular” campground. Mulvey, of Phoenixville, Pa., and his son, a middle school teacher in Philadelphia public schools, are among people camping at the Schoodic Woods Campground during its first full season of operation.

“It’s beautiful,” he said, pointing to the greenery that buffers sites. “Look at these trees. This is great.”

Located on the dramatic Schoodic Peninsula, the only part of Acadia on the mainland, the 94-site campground opened on Sept. 1.

Schoodic Woods Campground

From left to right, Eleanor Goldberg and Malcolm Burson, both of Portland, Jon Luoma and Cathy Johnson, both of Alna, stand in their site at the Schoodic Woods Campground at Acadia National Park after a bike ride together on the 100th anniversary of Acadia National Park.

During a visit on the actual 100th anniversary of Acadia National Park, July 8, Mulvey and other campers lauded the new campground which includes 4.7 miles of new hiking trails and 8.3 miles of new bike paths styled after the park’s carriage roads on Mount Desert Island.

“The bike paths are great,” said Eleanor Goldberg of Portland, who teaches English as a second language in adult education. “They are wide.”

Goldberg joined Malcolm Burson, public policy advisor for the Conservation Law Foundation, Cathy Johnson, a project director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, and Jon Luoma, a watercolor painter, for a planned two nights at the Schoodic Woods Campground. Continue reading