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Superintendent’s View

Acadia National Park Superintendent Sheridan SteeleSuperintendent’s View: Getting a Handle on Acadia’s Growing Popularity
By Sheridan Steele
Spring 2015 Friends of Acadia Journal

Many of you have heard me talk about good days and bad days in Acadia. A great day is when I hear a young person exclaim “this place is awesome!” or “this is the best vacation ever!”—both of which were heard on the Cadillac summit last year. A not-so-good day is when I see cars pulled off into the woods or parking on the Jordan Pond House lawn because frustrated drivers couldn’t find space in the lot. Or worse yet, when there are so many cars and buses on Cadillac that we have gridlock and no one is enjoying themselves.

Last summer, when Good Morning America viewers named Acadia “America’s Favorite Place” and USA Today readers named Acadia “America’s Best National Park,” I was pleased and concerned at the same time. I always want more people to enjoy their national parks but I do worry about crowding and congestion detracting from the high-quality experience that our visitors expect and deserve. All indicators (total visits, Island Explorer ridership, Visitor Center numbers, etc.) are showing steady increases; my personal observations tell me that at some times and in some places Acadia has too many people or vehicles to assure visitor satisfaction.

On many days there are hundreds of cars parked in the right lane of the Loop Road, 75 or more on the shoulder of Eagle Lake Road outside the Eagle Lake lots, and many more lining park roads wherever there are not “parking management” coping stones. In addition to the issue of crowding, there is a concern for safety as children and other pedestrians exit vehicles into travel lanes of busy roads or are otherwise vulnerable to drivers who may not be looking for kids to pop out in front of them. How should park managers deal with this growing problem? How should we handle increasing conflicts between vehicles and road bikes, or buses that are too long to make tight turns or too tall to fit under historic bridges? Should we focus on reducing the numbers of vehicles while still encouraging more people?

These are questions we hope to address in the park-wide transportation planning effort we are launching at Acadia. In addition to internal steps, we will be seeking as much public input as we can obtain through public meetings and workshops, from online outreach, and from partner organizations like Friends of Acadia. With Acadia’s centennial fast approaching, we want to develop transportation strategies that will better protect both park resources and the park visitor experience into Acadia’s second century. Personally, I would like to see more people getting out of their cars to hike, bike, and ride the Island Explorer; all of which would benefit the park by reducing the numbers and impacts of cars while at the same time providing a better connection to the natural environment.

You may have heard of Schoodic Woods, the new development taking place on the Schoodic Peninsula. Conservation buyers purchased the 3,200 acres immediately adjacent to the park’s Schoodic District and are now constructing a campground, information building, day use parking lot, 8.5 miles of bike paths, and 4.5 miles of hiking trails all to be operated by park staff. These wonderful new facilities will certainly increase the use on Schoodic but we want to manage that growth in ways that will not overwhelm the Schoodic loop road and small parking pullouts. To that end, we will encourage visitors to take the ferry to Schoodic or leave their cars in the new day-use parking lot. Biking on Schoodic is already a wonderful experience given the spectacular scenery and the almost-flat road; with a new cross-peninsula bike path to close the loop, people will soon have a safer and much more enjoyable experience. If we can properly manage the increasing use on Schoodic, perhaps its lessons can be applied to the MDI portion of Acadia.

We will also be experimenting with two “car-free” half days this season: May 16th and September 26th, when the Park Loop Road will be closed to autos until noon. One “silver lining” of the government sequester in 2013 was that walkers, runners, and bicyclists had a terrific experience and were able to thoroughly enjoy the natural values of Acadia without the noise, fumes, and potential hazards from hundreds of automobiles and buses sharing the road. We hope the transportation planning effort will provide some new ideas as well as public support for other approaches to assure the best park experience for the most people as we enter Acadia’s second century.