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.
A trial run of the Acadia National Park vehicle reservation system received mixed reactions from visitors, with some cheering the new requirement for reducing traffic congestion and making it easier to access Cadillac and Sand Beach and others criticizing it as too heavy-handed.
Signs like this one at the Hulls Cove Visitor Center were posted at key spots in Acadia National Park to educate visitors about the vehicle reservation system.
Under the pilot, which started Oct.1 and ends Sunday, Oct. 18, vehicle reservations were required from 4:30 am to 6:30 pm for the summit road at Cadillac Mountain and from 7 am to 5 pm for the Sand Beach Entrance including access to Sand Beach, Thunder Hole and other spots along a two-mile section of the Park Loop Road.
The vehicle reservation system faced intense pressure over the Indigenous Peoples’ Day weekend when some of the biggest crowds of the season descended on Acadia during sunny days on Saturday and Sunday, clogging some areas of the park. Acadia sold more than 4,000 vehicle reservations on one day alone over the weekend, according to a park spokesperson.
People with reservations praised the system because it shrunk the time to enter Sand Beach Entrance Station and the Cadillac Summit Road and took the edge off finding parking.
Acadia National Park has been hit by a recent rash of vandalism by someone who has used spray paint to damage about five miles of trails on Bald Peak, Huguenot Head and Champlain Mountain with unsightly, off-color blazes.
Gary Stellpflug, foreman of the Acadia trails crew, said he is asking the public to provide possible information on the vandal, who has not been apprehended. “We’re reaching out to the public for information,” Stellpflug said.
Off-color turquoise spray-painted blaze, left, next to the park’s official sky-blue blaze, marred the scenery along Champlain North Ridge Trail in July. Volunteers spent hours cleaning up the approximately 50 illegal blazes on this trail by August.
The rogue blazes, mainly on boulders and rocks, were removed from Bald Peak last fall and from Huguenot Head and Champlain Mountain in August, Stellpflug said.
The illegal spray-painted blazes, including about 50 on the Champlain North Ridge Trail, come amid ongoing efforts by the park to prevent other types of Acadia National Park vandalism or rule breaking, including the knocking down of historic-style cairns , the leaving of painted rocks, which the park considers to be litter along with paper and other waste, and the stacking of rocks.
About five of the vandal’s illegal paint blazes, also turquoise and of various sizes, were spotted during a hike on Sept. 1 on trails near the Schoodic Head overlook in Acadia. Stellpflug said he is aware of the illegal blazes at Schoodic and plans to have them removed.
In early August, two volunteers spent about 10 hours using an organic solution to wash off about 50 of the spray-painted blazes on the Champlain North Ridge Trail.
During a hike in July, about a month before the Acadia National Park vandalism was cleaned, reporters found that the vandal left misshapen and greenish-blue marks on Champlain’s granite slabs and rocks. They often were sprayed, sometimes in long streaks, near the park’s rectangular, 4-inch-long official sky-blue blaze.
Stellpflug said he is hoping the Acadia National Park vandalism will stop. Stellpflug said he assumes it is the same person who is responsible for all the blazes spray painted on trails.
The painted rock with the words “You can do it!” (see close-up photo of rock below) was found on a large boulder on Beachcroft Path – the very same boulder that George B. Dorr, the father of Acadia, was standing by in a well-known historic photo, taken around 1940. Such painted rocks are considered vandalism by the park, and offenders could be subject to fines or prison terms.
The Valley Cove Trail is set to soon reopen for a summer Acadia hiking season for the first time in five years, following an extensive rehabilitation that gives new life to the historically important trail along Somes Sound.
Hikers can get this view of Somes Sound from the Valley Cove Trail, opening after a major rehabilitation by the Acadia trails crew.
Gary J. Stellpflug, foreman of the Acadia trails crew, which did the work, summed up the completion of the complex and lengthy project, which included resetting or adding more than 300 stone steps along the trail.
“Valley Cove Trail finally opened!” exclaimed Stellpflug in his annual report for “Acadia Trails Forever,” a special endowment fund for trail maintenance and restoration at Acadia National Park started in 2000 by the Friends of Acadia and the park.
The Valley Cove Trail was finished and opened on Nov. 1, but to protect nesting peregrine falcons, it closed in March, as it does each year along with several other trails, including the Precipice and Jordan Cliffs Trail. The trails usually open in early August after chicks fly.
The improvements on the Valley Cove Trail, originally built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the mid-1930s, top a list of Acadia hiking trails rehabbed in 2019 and open for hikers in 2020 including Seaside Path, Bass Harbor Head Light and Kurt Diederich’s Climb.
Acadia hiking trails, totaling about 155 miles, remained open during the pandemic and use picked up after the Park Loop Road opened on June 1. More hikers hit the park trails after Maine exempted tourists from five states, including New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, from requirements to quarantine or test negative for the virus, according to reports on the Acadia National Park Hiking Facebook group.
Hikers take a Sunday stroll during the pandemic on a newly-improved section of the Seaside Path in Acadia National Park. The wooded 19th-century path connects the Jordan Pond area to a beach at Seal Harbor.
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.”
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.
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.
Acadia National Park is poised “any day now” to take over the vacant Bass Harbor Head Light Station, setting the stage for a new era for the iconic lighthouse, one of the most popular attractions within the park’s boundaries.
Acadia National Park will be assuming ownership of Bass Harbor Head Light from the Coast Guard “any day now.” (Photo courtesy of Greg Saulmon)
Ahead of becoming the new owner, Acadia is weighing recommendations in a new study of Bass Harbor Head Light by the National Park Service’s Historic Preservation Training Center. The “Bass Harbor Head Light Station Historic Structure Report,” produced with funds donated by the Friends of Acadia, is aimed at guiding future rehabilitation and repair work at the 2.75-acre complex including the original 1858 lighthouse with its cylindrical brick tower, the 1858 keeper’s dwelling, and the 1905 wood-frame garage.
The Coast Guard currently owns the iconic lighthouse and other structures and has been planning to transfer it to Acadia since 2017.
So picture-postcard perfect is Bass Harbor Head Light, it graces this year’s $55 Acadia annual pass. (Image courtesy of NPS)
“Apparently, all the paperwork is sitting with the General Services Administration and they need to do sort of the final paperwork to get it to us,” John T. Kelly, management assistant for Acadia National Park, said. “It should have happened a long time ago. It is really any day now but we have been saying any day now for months.”
When it assumes ownership, the National Park Service is hopeful of finding a partner to staff, operate and maintain the lighthouse and other buildings, maybe, for instance, a nonprofit group such as Eastern National, which promotes education of National Parks with books, other products and services, or the Tremont Historical Society, Kelly said.
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 →
Traffic congestion forced the closure of the summit road to Cadillac Mountain 58 times in 2019 and the road to Bass Harbor Head Light 32 times, spotlighting the need for a reservation system to park at certain popular attractions in Acadia National Park.
Cadillac Summit Road was closed 58 times in 2019 because of traffic, according to Acadia National Park. (NPS photo)
According to Christie Denzel Anastasia, public affairs specialist at Acadia, 2019 was also the first year to see closures related to Acadia traffic at places such as the entrance to Sieur de Monts, the Route 233 entrance to Cadillac Mountain, Schooner Head Road and the entrance to the Hulls Cove Visitor Center, which was closed five times.
Overall, traffic tie-ups prompted 105 closures in 2019 including three times apiece at Ocean Drive and Sieur de Monts and once each at Echo Lake Road and the Jordan Pond North Lot.
Acadia National Park was overwhelmed with hiking accidents and traffic congestion during a record-setting day for visits on a sunny day during the July 4 weekend.
View from the Maine Forest Service helicopter that rescued a 69-year-old woman who suffered heat stroke on Dorr on July 5, the busiest day ever in Acadia. It was the third rescue of the day, and when no park rangers were immediately available, Bar Harbor paramedics, Maine Forest Rangers, MDI Search and Rescue volunteers, and Friends of Acadia Summit Stewards all pitched in. (Photo courtesy of Maine Forest Service)
On July 5, the Maine national park had 35,000 visits, or 15 percent more than the prior record on July 3, 2017 and a 33 percent increase over the average busiest day for the last eight years, according to a park news release.
Park staff that day were pushed to the limit when they responded to four simultaneous rescue calls, including a helicopter rescue from 1,270-foot Dorr Mountain and another involving a fall off a cliff on the trail down the west face of Cadillac Mountain. Park dispatch that Friday was flooded with 755 radio calls and 20 emergency calls to 9-1-1.
Laura Cohen, acting chief of interpretation for the park, said the record visitation occurred because it was a Friday after the July 4 holiday and many people took the day off from work for a long weekend. “It was a very busy day,” she said, adding that the park was bracing for a busier day after AAA predicted that overall travel volume for the holiday was expected to rise 4.1 percent over 2018. Continue reading →
Visitors to Acadia National Park are finding it can be hard to get there from here.
A big orange “Road closed ahead” sign, posted at the foot of the steps at the Hulls Cove Visitor Center at Acadia National Park, warns people that the center is inaccessible during renovations.
The Hulls Cove Visitor Center, the main venue for selling park passes, could be closed until the end of June while it undergoes $1.2 million in renovations including upgraded restrooms.
Just outside the 1960s-era center, a large electronic sign warns of the closure, possibly discouraging Acadia National Park visitors from turning into the parking lot, where they might see an exhibit that includes information about buying a pass at other locations, a map or park programs. And if visitors do enter the lot, they are greeted at the center steps with a big “Road closed ahead” sign.
On top of Cadillac Mountain, the first stop for many Acadia National Park visitors, the gift shop, which also sells passes, is closed because of ice and snow damage and mildew issues. A sign urges motorists to buy a pass at the gift shop for display in their vehicles, but people walking up to the shop to make the purchase on Monday were turned away by a sign on the door that says “Temporarily closed.”
And along the main state highway that leads to Acadia and Bar Harbor, road construction, detours and one-way traffic are sometimes causing long backups and confusion. The construction, scheduled to be complete by mid-June, prompted at least one recent visitor to get lost in the dark and call the hotel she was registered at for step-by-step directions via cell phone.
A visitor on Monday peers into the window of the closed Cadillac Mountain Gift Shop, which was damaged by snow and ice this winter and also has mildew problems.
Further adding to the potential frustration this spring and summer for Acadia National Park visitors who are unprepared or unaware, in trying to get there from here:
– New paid parking meter and kiosk system in Bar Harbor, approved by the municipality
– Culvert replacement and other work on the Park Loop Road and related bridges
– Intermittent closures on carriage roads for drainage work
– Maintenance and rehabilitation of Kurt Diederich’s Climb, Cadillac West Face Trail and Valley Cove Trail
– Random rock stacking or vandalized Bates-style cairn trail markers, which can mislead hikers
Christie Denzel Anastasia, public affairs specialist for the park, wrote in an email that it has been “a challenging year” with the Route 3 detour and the closures of the Cadillac gift shop and the Hulls Cove Visitor Center. Continue reading →
Acadia National Park is calling for some sweeping changes to relieve traffic congestion including approval of a timed reservation system at a fee of likely less than $10 for cars on Cadillac Mountain, the north lot of Jordan Pond and the Ocean Drive corridor.
A timed reservation system for cars is the conclusion of the final transportation plan to manage Acadia traffic. (Image courtesy of NPS)
The plan also says that right lane parking on the Park Loop Road will be initially retained, but eventually eliminated as other options and parking become available for Acadia traffic. A park spokeswoman said earlier this year that the reservation system would start in 2020 at the earliest.
Reservations for Acadia traffic would be needed during the peak season of the middle of June to the middle of October. The proposed fee for a reservation, which includes possible discounts for frequent visitors to the lots, would be in addition to the visitor pass.
The park says the timed reservation system and other changes would improve visitor experience and access and create longterm benefits for the local and regional tourism industry. The plan comes after park rangers closed the summit road to Cadillac Mountain 54 times last year and at least 49 times in 2017 because of traffic congestion and visits to Acadia jumped to more than 3.52 million last year, up about 60% from 2007.