President’s Message: Heading in the Right Direction
By David R. MacDonald
Spring 2015 Friends of Acadia Journal
I remember my one and only traffic jam in Acadia. It was the early 1980s, and the Queen Elizabeth 2 was in Bar Harbor. I was to drive my grandfather partway up the Cadillac Mountain Road to see the famous ship before lunch. Three hours later, we returned home, frazzled and hungry, having gotten only a distant glimpse of the ocean liner but an up-close view of bumper-to-bumper congestion along park roads that I was accustomed to having all to myself. I was in shock.
This one frustrating experience thirty years ago has been the absolute exception during a lifetime of enjoying Acadia; most days, I have the trails or carriage roads all to myself, or close to it, particularly in the mornings or evenings. The park has greatly improved how it handles crowds and truly strives to make every visitor’s experience positive and memorable.
Nevertheless, what was once an unexpected surge on that rare day when the QE2 sailed into port has now become an almost-daily situation for both park managers and visitors during peak season. Acadia’s popularity is on the rise, and people are expecting more of the park than ever before. In particular, the number of vehicles and the size of some commercial motor coaches are straining the park’s narrow, winding roads, relatively low bridges, and small parking lots—built that way by design to minimize impact on the land and maximize our enjoyment of the stunning natural surroundings. Despite the great success of the Island Explorer bus system at taking hundreds of thousands of cars off the road each season, as Acadia’s roadways and parking lots become full to overflowing, visitor experience, public safety, and natural resources can be jeopardized.
That is why Friends of Acadia is very supportive of the National Park Service’s recent launch of a park-wide transportation planning effort that will take a comprehensive look at how visitation at Acadia has increased—and changed—since the park last conducted such an exercise nearly 25 years ago. While so much is different—the cruise ship boom, the Island Explorer, the advent of portable electronic devices and 24/7 connectivity—much also remains the same, in terms of Acadia’s most popular destinations (Cadillac, Sand Beach, Jordan Pond) and the fundamental geometry of Acadia’s historic road system.
And while the park’s planning process will take time, I am encouraged that Superintendent Sheridan Steele and his staff are moving to take immediate steps to gather better data, pilot new ideas, and make progress in the coming months. Here at Friends of Acadia we are doing whatever we can to help, exploring how to enhance the Island Explorer bus service and the ferry linking Bar Harbor and the Schoodic Peninsula, updating the data collection and methodology for calculating visitation to the park, adding seasonal interpretive staff to the summit of Cadillac Mountain, and supporting the park’s experiment of piloting two “car-free” mornings on Acadia’s roads in May and September.
The car-free experiment appears to have struck a chord already: some Acadia-lovers from near and far are making plans to be here with their bicycles on May 16th or September 26th for this rare opportunity. Others have expressed concerns that this effort might exclude visitors who are reliant on their cars to access park sites. Friends of Acadia will work with the park and local businesses to spread the word about the car-free mornings so that visitors are not surprised by closed gates and know their options for exploring the park those days. (See page 25 for additional details.)
I’ve noticed that although the number of bicyclists using the park has increased significantly in recent years, one rarely sees families or kids riding on the famed Park Loop Road—it’s simply too dangerous with the number of cars, the size of motor coaches, and the frequent use of the right lane for parking. I hope that the car-free mornings in Acadia will buck that trend.
Will there be bumps along the way as we try to improve our Acadia experiences in sharing and getting around this heavily-visited and beloved national park? Absolutely. But with the strong interest in this topic that has been expressed to me among FOA members and the general public, and with your commitment and involvement in the planning, we will be headed in a promising direction. Please take Superintendent Sheridan Steele up on his invitation on page 3 in order to get involved!