FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, August 23, 2017
CONTACT: Stephanie Clement, Conservation Director, Friends of Acadia, 207-288-3340; Mac McKeever, Senior Public Relations Representative, L.L.Bean, 207-552-6078; Christie Anastasia, Acadia National Park, 207-288-8806; Paul Murphy, Executive Director, Downeast Transportation, 207-667-5796
BAR HARBOR, MAINE – A major milestone was achieved on Wednesday, August 23rd when Wayne and Charlene Ferguson and Annie, their Yorkshire terrier, boarded the Oceanarium bus route of the Island Explorer, a fare-free, propane-powered bus system that serves Acadia National Park and its surrounding communities on Mount Desert Island and the Schoodic Peninsula. The bus system was started in 1999, and carried the Fergusons as its 7 millionth passenger on Wednesday.
“It’s truly an exciting time for the Island Explorer, and I owe great thanks to the drivers and staff of Downeast Transportation for the care they take in serving our passengers,” said Paul Murphy, Executive Director for Downeast Transportation, the non-profit organization that runs the Island Explorer, as well as county-wide public transit and commuter services. Ridership on the Island Explorer is up 1% from 2016, which was a record year of visitation in the park. The Island Explorer picks up passengers at hotels and campgrounds throughout the communities surrounding the park and connects them to routes that travel to park destinations for a seamless recreational experience.
The Fergusons visit Acadia National Park each year and ride the buses frequently from the campground where they stay. They are retired and enjoy biking, kayaking, and visiting local communities in the area with their dog, Annie. They were on their way to Northeast Harbor, when they were given the news that they were the 7 millionth passengers on the Island Explorer. The Fergusons were greeted at the Hulls Cove Visitor Center by representatives from Acadia National Park, Friends of Acadia, Downeast Transportation, and L.L.Bean and awarded a free one-year membership to Friends of Acadia, a gift card and Centennial tote from L.L.Bean, and a variety of items to celebrate Acadia.
“We’re really pleased that people like the Fergusons are using the Island Explorer as a convenient way to get around the park,” said Kevin Schneider, Acadia National Park Superintendent. “Many of the popular destinations in the park, such as Sand Beach and Jordan Pond, experience parking and traffic congestion at the busiest times of the day, so choosing to ride the Island Explorer is helping to improve the visitor experience for everyone.” The National Park Service is preparing a transportation plan to identify additional ways of reducing traffic congestion and improving visitor safety through a range of management strategies
The Island Explorer also helps improve air quality in the region by running on cleaner-burning propane gas. Since the bus system’s inception in 1999, it is estimated that the Island Explorer has eliminated over 2.5 million private vehicle trips and prevented emissions of more than 23 thousand tons of greenhouse gases and 35 tons of smog-causing pollutants. If all cars and recreational vehicles (RVs) removed from the roads by the Island Explorer since 1999 were placed bumper to bumper, the traffic jam would extend from Bar Harbor south to the Florida Keys and then back up the west coast of Florida, through Texas and the southwest, and up the coast of California to Muir Woods National Monument.
The Island Explorer is supported financially by Acadia National Park, the U.S. and Maine Departments of Transportation, contributions from L.L.Bean and Friends of Acadia, local municipal appropriations, fees from businesses that receive front door service, and passenger donations. A portion of every weekly and annual Acadia National Park entrance fee is dedicated to funding the Island Explorer’s operations.
Herb Thomson, Planning Director at the Maine Department of Transportation, also extended congratulations from that agency, which has provided the Island Explorer system with funding assistance for planning, buses and operations. “MaineDOT salutes the Island Explorer partnership on achieving another big milestone,” said Thomson. “This is acritical service for Acadia’s visitors, helping to reduce traffic congestion and impacts to the park, which is a natural icon for the state.”
L.L.Bean’s relationship with the Island Explorer began in 2002 with the corporation’s historic $1 million gift to Friends of Acadia that enabled Downeast Transportation, to extend operations through Columbus Day each year. The gift also enabled the purchase and operation of two vans and bicycle trailers that carry bicyclists directly between the Bar Harbor Village Green and Eagle Lake. In 2005, 2011, and 2016, L.L.Bean renewed its commitment to Acadia and the Island Explorer, with support now totaling more than $4.25 million. Meredith Tague, Manager of L.L.Bean’s store in Ellsworth was on hand at the 7 millionth passenger celebration to present the tote bag and gift certificate to the Fergusons.
New buses are on order to replace many of the buses currently in operation, and additional buses may be needed to accommodate growing demand for transit alternatives around the park. “Each year, Downeast Transportation completes a passenger survey on the buses,” said Stephanie Clement, Conservation Director for Friends of Acadia. “The comments are very positive and show great appreciation from visitors that they can leave their cars behind and travel with ease throughout the park. We also hear from passengers that they would like more routes, more frequency, and extended seasons. It’s encouraging to see this interest in the bus system. The challenge will be to meet the demand, which sometimes exceeds capacity.” Visitors riding the Island Explorer are encouraged to be prepared with water, snacks, and appropriate clothing in case the bus they expect to board is over capacity and they have to wait for the next bus.
The Island Explorer runs nine routes plus the Bicycle Express through Acadia National Park and the surrounding communities. The buses will run their full schedule through Wednesday, August 30, and then will operate on a reduced basis through October 9. The Southwest Harbor route (Route #7) will remain on the full schedule through August 31 and switch to reduced fall service on September 1. Information and schedules are available online at www.exploreacadia.com.