Decades of planning and persistence are coming to fruition as construction begins at the site on Gateway Center Drive in Trenton. “It’s partnerships that make this bus go,” said Acadia Superintendent Kevin Schneider.
May 24th, 2023
Celebration speakers gather in front of the “Future Home of Acadia Gateway Center” sign. From left: Peter Butler, regional administrator at Federal Transit Authority; Kevin Schneider, superintendent, Acadia National Park; Hannah Collins, deputy director, Maine Office of Tourism; U.S. Senator Angus King; Fred Ehrlenbach, first selectman, Town of Trenton; Paul Murphy, executive director, Downeast Transportation, Inc., Bruce Van Note, commissioner, Maine Department of Transportation; and Eric Stiles, president and CEO, Friends of Acadia. (Photo by Julia Walker Thomas/Friends of Acadia)
Monday’s celebration on the grounds of the future Acadia Gateway Center was a testament to partnerships and perseverance. Decades of planning and persistence are coming to fruition as construction begins at the site on Gateway Center Drive in Trenton.
“The idea for the Island Explorer grew from a broad partnership of federal, state, and local agencies and Friends of Acadia that culminates with the construction of the Acadia Gateway Center,” said Acadia National Park Superintendent Kevin Schneider. “The facility will welcome millions of visitors to the region providing tourism information and opportunities to ride the Island Explorer to popular park destinations and neighboring communities.”
The celebration included speakers from several of the project’s partners, including the Maine Department of Transportation, Town of Trenton, Maine Office of Tourism, DownEast Transportation, Inc., Acadia National Park, Federal Transit Administration, and Friends of Acadia.
The Acadia Gateway Center celebration press conference in Trenton, Maine.(Photo by Julia Walker Thomas/Friends of Acadia)
Slated for completion in 2025, the center will be a hub for visitors to plan their trips and board the Island Explorer, easing traffic in the park and on Mount Desert Island and providing an improved visitor experience. The center will also incorporate several sustainability features, including a geothermal heating and cooling system, a rooftop solar panel array, and electric vehicle charging stations.
With nearly four million visits, Acadia National Park was the fifth most-visited national park in 2022. With its small footprint, particularly compared to National Parks with similar visitation numbers, traffic and parking in and around the park are a challenge.
The Acadia Gateway Center will enable visitors to leave their vehicles and board an Island Explorer bus to explore Acadia National Park and other destinations on and around Mount Desert Island car-free.
Friends of Acadia President and CEO, Eric Stiles, VP of Development Lisa Horsch Clark, Arthur Keller on behalf of the late T.A. Cox, and VP of Programs Stephanie Clement pose for a photo at the Acadia Gateway Center celebration in Trenton, Maine. (Photo by Julia Walker Thomas/Friends of Acadia)
Friends of Acadia began working on this project with the other partners in 2002. In 2007, Friends of Acadia purchased the land being used for the park-and-ride lot, bus maintenance facility, and welcome center and sold it to MaineDOT. Friends of Acadia continued as a partner throughout planning efforts and is funding part of the Acadia Gateway Center construction, as well as solar panels on the new building.
“Thank you to all of the donors who helped make this exciting project possible,” said Eric Stiles, Friends of Acadia President and CEO. “The Acadia Gateway Center is critically important infrastructure to help ensure that Acadia’s visitors have a positive experience. With park visitation on the rise, it will reduce traffic congestion by providing vital opportunities for a car-free experience in the park.”
Current construction represents the final two phases of work that began more than 20 years ago. The first phase, completed in 2012, included the construction of a park-and-ride lot as well as office space and a bus maintenance facility for Downeast Transportation, which operates the Island Explorer shuttle.
The Island Explorer has been a vital link between Acadia National Park and the surrounding communities since 1999—serving more than 8 million riders since its inception. It is one of the largest and busiest transit systems in the National Park Service, and its success has made it a model for other parks across the country.
Construction equipment moves earth at the Acadia Gateway Center celebration in Trenton, Maine.(Photo by Julia Walker Thomas/Friends of Acadia)
In addition to private support from Friends of Acadia and public support from MaineDOT, the National Park Service and Federal Transit Administration are also providing funding for the Acadia Gateway Center.
“It’s partnerships that make this bus go,” said Superintendent Schneider.
“This state-of-the-art visitor center that sits at the gateway to our beloved Acadia National Park will enhance the experience of park visitors by providing information, park entrance passes, and helping reduce traffic congestion by allowing visitors to leave their cars and ride the Island Explorer bus to the park and surrounding towns,” said Stiles. “Today is the culmination of the vision, ideas, passion, and energy of so many people.”