Acadia National Park rangers in 2018 closed the summit road to Cadillac Mountain to incoming vehicles 54 times because of traffic congestion, possibly accenting the need for a reservation system to park at the peak.
The 54 closures at Cadillac occurred between June 26 and Oct. 24. The closures came as the number of visitors to Acadia in 2018 jumped to 3.52 million through November, exceeding in 11 months the 3.509 million for all of 2017, according to National Park Service statistics.
Christie Denzel Anastasia, public affairs specialist at Acadia National Park, said the park tracks the closures as best as possible and dispatchers record the closures on an Excel spreadsheet, but the numbers may not always be precise.
The summit road to Cadillac was recorded to be closed to incoming Acadia traffic about 70 times in 2017, she said.
“We can safely say that Cadillac Summit Road is the area that regularly experiences congestion, and has for a while,” she said. “But when we are able to close it for safety reasons, we do.”
The length of the closures varies from about 15 to 90 minutes, she said.
Road to Cadillac not the only one closed by Acadia traffic in 2018
The road to the popular Bass Harbor Head Light was also closed six times because of traffic congestion, Anastasia said.
The park also counts the number of vehicles turned away during a closure.
On Sunday, Oct. 14, for example, during the popular fall foliage season, the Cadillac summit road was closed at the entrance for almost an hour in early afternoon and 413 vehicles were turned away, she said.
With an elevation of 1,530-feet, Cadillac is the highest peak on the east coast of the US and attracts a lot of Acadia traffic.
The majority of the closures last year came at sunrise or sunset. Another time period for many closures is roughly from 11 am to 12:30 p.m.
On Sunday, July 8, traffic was so bad that for an hour and 10 minutes, the two-way section of the Park Loop Road was closed at either end from the entrance to Cadillac all the way to the Jordan Pond House.
Twenty-six of the closures on Cadillac were recorded during about a one-month period from the end of July to Aug. 27.
The first closure on June 26 was for an hour and 10 minutes and started at noon.
The closure numbers can be affected by different factors. A dispatcher, for example, could be handling a separate emergency and may not have time to finish the spreadsheet, or there might not be enough law enforcement rangers available to temporarily shut the road when needed, Anastasia said.
The estimated 70 closures in 2017 included 49 times between June 28 and Sept. 4.
Closures for Acadia traffic also occur at Ocean Drive, the parking lot for Sand Beach and the big north lot at Jordan Pond. The large lot for Jordan Pond, which is managed by the park, probably needs to be closed more often, she said, but is more difficult to shut than Cadillac, partly because of access needed to the Jordan Pond House, the park’s only restaurant, which has a concessionaire that manages traffic flow at a smaller lot just outside the eatery.
One of the most chaotic traffic jams at Acadia last year occurred on Sunday before Memorial Day when dozens of motorists broke park rules by parking along the two-way section of the loop road because lots at Jordan Pond were full. Even though the park lines the two-way road with large coping stones that restrict parking, cars parked next to the stones and partly in the road, creating a hazard from Jordan Pond to the Bubble Pond parking area.
The park was expected to release its final Environmental Impact State for the new transportation plan early this year, but work stopped on the plan during the recent 35-day federal shutdown, the longest in US history.
Upon the end of the shutdown, the park’s priority now is hiring 120 to 150 seasonal workers and ramping up operations for the season ahead, she said. Those seasonal employees supplement some 80 to 90 permanent positions at the park.
Transportation plan proposes timed reservation system for Cadillac
On Monday Feb. 4, Acadia National Park Superintendent Kevin Schneider will provide updates on the park’s transportation planning process during a public meeting of the Acadia National Park Advisory Commission, at park headquarters at 20 McFarland Hill Dr. in Bar Harbor, from 1 to 3 p.m. Schneider will also report on the park’s acquisition of Bass Harbor Head Light and a housing initiative for Acadia workers.
The park released a draft 215-page draft transportation plan on April 26. That plan included a “preferred alternative” for a proposed timed reservation system for cars and other private vehicles to enter the peak of Cadillac Mountain, the Jordan Pond lot and along the Ocean Drive corridor of the Park Loop Road.
Park spokeswoman Anastasia said it’s likely that the reservation system, if approved, might be implemented at only one or two of those locations in 2020, partly because of time needed to create an online reservation system.
Under a timed reservation system, drivers would get a window of time to park a vehicle, but those vehicles would not have to leave at any particular time.
“If we put something in place and we set sort of a threshold for what is a good visitor experience, and something is not working, we will be flexible to kind of open it up more or tighten it up more, depending on what we need to do to keep the visitor experience and protection of resources high,” she said.
Since 2015, the park has been working closely with the public and stakeholders to devise a plan.