SUPERINTENDENT’S REPORT – Kevin Schneider
Visitation in 2016 was up 17 1/2% which is an additional ½ million people that visited Acadia National Park. It was a very busy year for us. The staff did a marvelous job operating the park this summer. With another half-million people coming to see us, it creates challenges. I am really proud of our crew in our centennial year. I think we did a great job of operating the park. We had to close Cadillac Mountain’s Summit Road on twelve occasions to inbound traffic because the congestion at the summit became so hard it was impossible to respond to an emergency up there. Essentially traffic gridlocked. It took 30-45 minutes just to circulate the summit area of Cadillac. We, also, had to close Ocean Drive two times this summer, which had not occurred in the last few years. There was only one or so occasion in our history where we had to close Ocean Drive. Traffic was literally backed up to, and beyond, the entrance station at Sand Beach. Those are frustrating moments for us. We don’t like to have to do that. But, when it gets to the point that it is so gridlocked that is just not safe, we have to make those difficult decisions. And that leads us to the transportation plan and the need for addressing these issues. It’s not a positive visitor experience when that kind of circumstance occurs. I was out working one of those closures with our field staff one day this summer and heard from some frustrated visitors. They could not park at Jordon Pond House and the road to Cadillac was closed and they asked for their money back. That was a disappointed visitor and we don’t like to see that. So the transportation plan is an important piece of trying to manage those visitation increases into the future.
Schoodic was up 30% in visitation. We saw a lot more people coming to Schoodic. The campground was full for much of the summer. It had an occupancy status that was basically full. Bicycle traffic was up 57% at Schoodic. More and more people are choosing to visit that location with their bicycles.
We are hoping to hire parking lot attendants for next summer; essentially hire seasonals to help us run our parking lots and help us troubleshoot problems before you get to the point of gridlock and areas having to close down. Housing is always a concern for us with our seasonal workforce. Anytime we add new seasonals, like the parking lot attendants, the first question asked is where are they going to live? The truth is we really don’t have a place for them to live so housing is something, in the long term we really want to try to address. We are convening and discussing with partners to find creative ways of tackling our own seasonal workforce housing issue. It is a problem that really affects everyone on this Island; housing is at a real premium. All employers on this island are struggling with housing issues. Paul Murphy, President and CEO of Downeast Transportation, was not able to hire as many bus drivers as he wanted to this past summer for the Island Explorer buses. This affects, not just the park, but our partners too. And if we can’t hire enough bus drivers, that is a concern for us as well.
When we close the Loop Road, the Island Explorer still travels, along with Olie’s Trolley, but it does get caught up in any congestion. We don’t make formalized forecasts for visitation. For 2017, it could be up or it could be a little less but we don’t know. I think the general trajectory of our visitation is increasing. The state has done a very good job of marketing Maine as a vacation destination and the public is responding to that. There are 80 million people that we are a day’s drive from. People are discovering their national parks. I think the centennial had an effect on this year’s visitation but there were visitors who showed up unaware of the centennial. They had not heard about it and they still came. I think the trajectory of our visitation is only going to increase if we look at the next five to ten year horizon.
There is a hiring freeze right now that we are within. It is based on an executive order from the president. As a branch of the federal government, we are subject to that executive order and hiring freeze. Some guidance that came up just in the last week from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) said the hiring freeze is not to effect seasonal employees. This would be the time of the year when we would normally be hiring our seasonal employees and those seasonals are crucial for us to operate Acadia National Park this summer. We cannot operate the park without our seasonal workforce. And so we just got guidance in the last week that should relieve the restriction for seasonal employees. We are still waiting for the approval as an agency to hire those seasonals. Part of that guidance requires the director of the National Park Service to notify the OPM the number of seasonal employees we are going to be hiring as an agency. We are in the process, I believe, of doing that. My hope is in the next week or so, we should be able to resume our normal hiring of seasonals. Now we still are prohibited from hiring permanent employees per this hiring freeze and we do have a number of very critical permanent vacancies here at Acadia; positions like our IT Specialist, our only permanent employee to troubleshoot our computer systems; we have a vacant NEPA Coordinator, who processes all of our environmental assessments, our projects which require screening for environmental impacts; our Concession Specialist position will become vacant in February which is the position that oversees our contract with Dawnland, which operates Jordon Pond House; we have a vacant Maintenance Supervisor position at Schoodic; Carriage Road Supervisor position which is vacant; and a Deputy Chief Ranger positon which is vacant. So we do have a number of vacant permanent positons. We have had a number of people leave early this past winter so it has created some vacant positions for us in our permanent workforce. If a 120 day hiring freeze is the expectation of the executive order, what will come after that still remains to be seen, so there is a little bit of uncertainty whether or not we start to get come flexibility or not.
So with that, I will hand it over to John Kelly to talk a little bit more about the transportation plan.
Transportation Plan Update – John Kelly, Management Assistant
The transportation plan is going to be on your agenda for a very long time. The transportation plan is seeking to address road and parking congestion by safe, high quality visitor experience and to protect park values and resources. The park kicked off the transportation plan in January, 2015. We initially started understanding what this is all about, what the scope was, and the process for doing the transportation plan. In the summer of 2015, we gathered ideas and public input, held public meetings, and collected comments. Between the fall 2015 and summer of 2016, we looked at the comments and collected data and we developed policies and strategies. We are still trying to collect current data as best we can as we form that plan. There was a full range of public comments/feedback so it was difficult to form these preliminary concepts.
We developed preliminary concepts; 4 for MDI and 2 for Schoodic. The preliminary concepts (alternatives) went out for a 45 day review, which was considered an extra step to get extra feedback and refine the ideas. We held a public meeting at the Peninsular School on Schoodic with about 100 people attending, and about 200 attending a public meeting at MDI High School. We also reached out online, through our newsletter and on our public comment website. In addition, we held individual meetings with stakeholders; we met with our concessioners, each of the town’s Selectboards, the Bar Harbor Town Council, and Gouldsboro and Winter Harbor. These meetings were after the formally period for comments closed but all the comments got into the record, which we used a few weeks ago at a three-day workshop, with the 20 member planning team, held at Oceanside with our support from the Washington office and some consultants.
At the Transportation Plan workshop, we look over the comments on these concepts. For MDI, there was a consensus we need to do something; for Schoodic it was a consensus not to do anything. We are still working these out and we have good reason to continue along Schoodic. That was the general gist. Across the board, we heard about biking, buses, both commercial and the Island Explorer, and private vehicles. Comments were equally broad and wide ranged. We came out with very solid information and were able to incorporate data on Cadillac from 2015. There was local concern from both MDI and Schoodic about how it would affect people who live in the area; the neighbors, people who have Acadia in their backyard.
The outcome of the workshop was that we refine the preliminary concepts into very rough alternatives. This process will continue to get public input and we will continue to meet with stakeholders and all the towns on a regular basis. By late 2017, we hope to have a draft set of alternatives and a draft environmental impact statement, which is a broad policy document that looks at the impact of natural, cultural and economic. A draft will go out for public comment. We are shooting to have a final decision by late 2018 in what is called a Record of Decision. But by the end of this year, we hope to have something go out to the public that is fairly well formulated so we can begin to move the alternatives forward to preferred alternatives and a final decision.
We collected a lot of new data for visitor use on Cadillac and this summer we hope to be doing that for Ocean Drive to help in understanding the whole Thunder Hole, Sand Beach, Ocean Drive corridor.
We will be having more discussions and we are getting into a more formal process. We need to be fair to all the constituent’s and interests out there. We will have distinct periods where we open the document to public comments, close that, and come back for the final. But to no surprise, the alternatives you are going to look at are at varying degrees of managing both commercial buses and private cars focused on the Park Loop Road and, also, we are developing site by site alternatives for places like Echo Lake beach or Seawall, which we know are going to be part of the puzzle. Once we know how to manage the Park Loop Road, there are going to be impacts beyond that that we are going to need to address.
Part of the impetus for the plan and the timing of it, besides the obvious issues, was we have projects going on, like the Acadia Gateway Center and the ferry terminal in Bar Harbor that we know what we do is going to affect those projects and the communities and vice versus. We want to continue to work with communities on those projects like the Acadia Gateway Center. Ideally what we want to have coming out of this transportation plan is an understanding of the function and use of that site so we can move into some future use and development of that site. The Acadia Gateway Center is incorporated into the transportation plan. So we will have the answer, along with the transportation plan.
We have the transportation website available for information or you can get on a mailing list to receive regular updates. The website is listed below:
The transportation planning team is primarily made up of 12-15 staff from the park, representing different divisions or programs, representatives to include key planners and visitor use management specialists from the Washington office and, by extension, the Northeast Regional Office. The Washington office has contracted outside consultants for professional outside expertise, and we work closely with Paul Murphy of Downeast Transportation who is tied to the Island Explorer. Of course, we have all the stake holders,
concessioners, and operational partners, like Schoodic Institute, and so on.
We are talking managing rather than limiting visitation. Inevitably, strategies will be looked at in limitation. We hope to provide people information ahead of time so they can plan and get the experience they want at the time they want. A lot of this, which we really haven’t talked about directly, is about education and advanced planning, informing the public, and transitioning people to look ahead, knowing they may not get the parking space on the top of Cadillac at sunrise that they want. In some ways, there are limits but, hopefully, that opens doors, too.
We can take small steps even now to manage the traffic and congestion problem, which we are. Once the plan is finalized in late 2018, implementation will take some time. It will take technology, staff, funding, probably some physical changes, contracting, arrangements…all this will take some time. We also aren’t going to do something so sudden that it’s going to lose its effect. So again, we’ll go back to once we get all the pieces together for implementation, we are going to want to build this into working with the communities, the chambers, the state, and all the sources we have for getting the word out that there may
be a new way of visiting Acadia in the future. I can’t give you an exact timeframe for rollout. It could be the early years or it might be out five or ten years. But the plan is really looking even beyond that. We are looking at a generation of ways to visit Acadia. Again, it is hard to get at what is too many people, if we can direct them to different place at different times and handle it in a different way. We are not going to come out and say only X number of people are allowed in this place at a time or over the summer. It’s going to be, hopefully, a better way of managing that demand.
Stuart West -
We have been managing buses for four years; working with the land excursion companies. Individual companies are only two buses are allowed on Cadillac at a time, which is a drastic change from four years ago when we had seventeen buses up there at once. We work with the companies to ensure they only have two buses and, if they have more than two buses, we cite them. It is up to the companies to manage how they rotate the buses go up Cadillac. It is working to an extent. There is supply and demand as you can imagine, which alters the equation, and there are other things outside of their control they have to manage. This is why we gave them that ability. There can be a delay at customs; the weather can be a delay, fog, where people may decide they don’t want to go on Cadillac at all. All those variables mixed in. Is it a nice day after several rain days? That really influences the visitation on Cadillac. With all those things combined means there has to be a lot of flexibility in the system and we try to give them the flexibility so they can manage themselves knowing they can’t exceed those certain numbers.
Matt Horton –
Overnight parking and shuttling people in can go a long way. It seems to me it is the vehicles, not the people. I hope the plan will consider more parking spots, greater transportation avenues (like parking in Trenton and shuttling) and making sure you manage the buses, which sounds like you already are.
John Kelly –
The vehicles are the obvious issue and parking congestion is easily recognized, but we are not disregarding numbers because there is still the experience when people are at a certain location and we have to look at both sides in that the ability of transit or concessions to bring larger numbers of people and not have a vehicle issue is still in the mix of the equation. So, I agree with you, but we are not going to disregard that number if it has an effect on people’s visitor experience or safety at a location like the top of Cadillac or Thunder Hole. The definition for Visitor Experience is terminology we use. It’s about the guest or tourist experience. We want them to come here, have a really great time, not get injured, learn about the park and take something away. It’s about what they take away and they remember and tell other people about their experience. It’s about a change in their behavior or where they live or are from that has been affected by their park experience. We do visitor surveys every year so we get a sense of whether people have a good experience or not. Safety is not objective. We know the numbers of injuries and accidents and we always want to reduce those numbers. To a certain degree, it is an art but there are ways to look at it more quantifiably. We collect data and we use the numbers that we have. We need to go into details about data and data modeling. Charlie Jacobi will come back at the next meeting and talk about Visitor Use Management 101.
Kevin Schneider –
The transportation plan is an important project for Acadia National Park and it is a long-term process. We hope to have a decision in late 2018. But please recognize we have not made any decisions yet. We are still very much in the process. We still haven’t fleshed out our alternatives. We are doing that as we speak and will be doing it over the coming months. Once we do that, we start to look at what the environmental impacts of those alternatives are. And then we reach this draft EIS, which we hope to have out in late 2017 and there will be more public comments on that. So please stay tuned but, also, please recognize we have not made any decisions yet.
Boundary Legislation – Kevin Schneider, Superintendent
The next thing we would like to talk about is the legislation in your packets which was introduced by Senator King and Congressman Poliquin last week. That builds on the legislation which was introduced at last session of Congress by Senator King and Congressman Poliquin. It was established as a result of the Schoodic acquisition and concern about the Schoodic acquisition and it addresses those issues. It addresses some issues with Tremont School, for example. It authorizes the permanent extension of this
advisory commission. It addresses commercial fishing. It has issues related to a small parcel in Bar Harbor that was added to this version, which was recently introduced, along with funding for the waste transfer facility in Bar Harbor. So it is a broad package. I certainly don’t want to speak for the delegation or their staff but I really do appreciate the cooperation of the delegation. They have been very diligent with this legislation and they have also been really open to ideas and suggestions for the National Park Service and from the communities so I really appreciate their diligence in trying to push this bill forward. We have just begun to look at it. We did work with them a little bit over the last few months in terms of the language in the bill and we’re digesting it. We do not have an official position on the legislation yet. That happens at a level above mine in Washington, DC, within the administration and the Department of the Interior. But it is out and I don’t know that it is scheduled for a hearing yet but I assume it would be soon. I am happy to address any questions to the best of my ability that you may have about it. I don’t know if we have anyone here today from the delegation staff if they want to say a thing or two about it
but I am not seeing anyone.
Intertidal Zone Dialogue – Rebecca Cole-Will, Chief of Resource Management
This has been a process of doing conservation planning and it involved a lot of stakeholders in the discussion. We actually had started this work before the legislation came up for discussion and the two are on parallel tracks and do intersect in terms of thinking about the intertidal zone and what kinds of uses are appropriate and traditional. This is a larger issue for us. We are a park with a large intertidal boundary and the resources of that area are one of concern. It is larger than harvesting. It has a lot to do with the health and resiliency of the intertidal zone and with whom we should be working with to understand the ongoing conservation and protection of the intertidal zone as part of the resources of the park. So this was a planning effort we have been doing related to conservation of all resources in the park. The intertidal zone is one conservation target. We started this in the fall by pulling together a team of stakeholders, park staff, research scientists, stakeholders from a variety of different state and federal agencies including BMR and some of the local shellfish resource committees, wormers; folks who know what is going on in, and understand, the intertidal zone. We met for a couple of days to talk about what the issues are, what ideas we can work on together in a collaborative way to understand the resource issues, and to develop strategies to start addressing them. We came up with four management strategies that we intend to continue to talk about and refine in terms of some planning we can do as resource managers.
- Improve and maintain communication and collaboration with all the stakeholders
- Maintain a healthy intertidal zone (impacts; science and research)
- Education and Interpretation (as park rangers, we talk to the public, seek feedback and educate\ ourselves, as well)
- Understand competing uses; how we might manage and protect the health of the intertidal zone while ensuring our visitors have a quality experience
We are spending time developing strategies, working with our stakeholders and determine our next step, if we take this kind of action; what information we need to know and who we need to talk to. Of course, there is the need to publically communicate the value of the intertidal zone and its importance to all the people of the State of Maine and park visitors and it is a basic resource that is integral to what Acadia National Park is. Everyone we are working with, from clammers and wormers to visitors to scientists and others have said this is a really valuable resource and we all need to work together to protect it.
Ben Emory –
Just a comment, given that almost all of the park deeds go to the low water mark which means resources in the intertidal zone are on park property. That is an important factor. Has there been discussion about the part of the intertidal zone on the Schoodic Peninsula which was under navy management and it being particularly pristine and people feel it should be maintained for research? Could you collaborate on that?
Because that area had been closed for so many years to any kind of use, it has been identified as one of the most pristine in the State of Maine because it hasn’t been trampled and there is less activity there; so research scientists have said that is a crucial area to protect. Those are the kinds of issues we are looking at in terms of identifying those resources; what is going on there and how to protect them. It is an amazingly pristine resource area.
Kevin Schneider –
We haven’t necessarily asked the Solicitor for a formal opinion. We asked the solicitor’s office to research the deeds and the outcome of that deed research does indicate that we own to the low water mark on a vast majority of the park’s deeds. Of course, since we own to the low water mark, that is where the provisions of the CFR apply and that is what brought us into this conflict with commercial harvesting of clams and worms, which really launched these kinds of issues. We do own to the low water mark by and large throughout Acadia National Park. There are a few instances where we do
not. So the provisions of the CFR apply by and large throughout the park.
Jackie Johnston - It was agreed on the following position to be shared with Park Service and Elected Officials:
- Permitted commercial harvesting of sea creatures should be limited to traditional manual methods using only hand implements traditionally used. There should be no mechanical harvesting permitted.
- No harvesting of plants, including seaweed, should be permitted. As written, the bills permit harvesting of “marine organisms” as defined in Maine Revised Statutes, and that definition includes plants and, thus, for the purposes of these bills is too broad.
- No aquaculture should be permitted in the intertidal zone areas owned by Acadia National Park.
The Commission favors continued commercial harvesting of clams, worms, and periwinkles by traditional means in the intertidal zone lands owned by Acadia National Park, and that seems consistent with the goals of Section 8 of the bills as stated by Senator King and Representative Poliquin, who have been quoted in local newspapers. The language in the bills, however, is too broad and goes beyond those goals. It would authorize harvesting of seaweed, use of mechanical harvesters, and aquaculture, none of which are traditional or being currently undertaken at Acadia National Park.
After extensive discussion of the legislation and the intertidal zone by the A.N.P. Advisory Commission, the commission felt the legislation is too broad and needs to be clearly defined. A motion was made authorizing Jackie Johnston to draft a letter to submit to the Congressional Delegation, copied to the Secretary of the Interior and Director of the National Park Service, with recommendations of ANP Advisory Commission to include ‘harvesting limited to traditional, historic uses; prohibiting commercial harvesting to include rockweed and aquaculture; and to prohibit mechanical harvesters on the coast of Acadia National Park’ and they would like to advise the wording to include ‘traditional means and methods’. The ANP Advisory Commission would like the Congressional Delegation to look at their recommendations and see if they can accommodate them. Motion was made by Ben (Lee) Worcester, seconded by Ben Emory, all approved, no opposed; pending everyone on the commission will see a copy of the letter before sending it out, and a copy of the letter to be sent to the Secretary of the Interior and the Director for the National Park Service.
Steve Smith, Otter Creek, Public
– The Department of Marine Resources has jurisdiction over these waters right now and I think they do a good job managing the whole thing. I think the park and this Advisory Commission keep their nose out of it completely. They already have their foot in the door and it’s been my experience when they get their foot in the door, the park conjures, like a cancer. It just grows out of control. We don’t need big brother getting involved in this at all. The Department of Marine Resources does a good job. I pick up a little bit of seaweed once in a while to put on my lobsters when I take them up to keep them cool in the summertime. Once they get their foot in the door, I won’t even be
able to do that. You watch. It never stops.
Jackie Johnston –
I do appreciate your comments but we are trying to engage with all stakeholders. Thank you.
Construction Updates – Keith Johnston, Chief of Facilities Management
(See Construction Updates 2017 Attached) There are two major construction projects that have been ongoing and we plan to wrap up by May 1st; the Sieur de Monts sewage system tied into the system of Bar Harbor and the rehabilitation of the Seawall sewage system. Looking ahead for the year, we will be tackling the repaving of several parking lots; Cadillac Mountain and the Sieur de Mont parking area. There are multiple lots to include Cadillac, Visitor Center, Tarn parking area, Sand Beach, Thunder Hole, Norumbega, Schooner Head, and Stanley Brook Road. The job of repairing a retaining wall on the Carriage Road between Jordon Pond House and Wildwood Stables fell through last year. We hope to get that done this year, starting after August 1st. In conjunction with that, we will be resurfacing several miles of Carriage Roads in the Jordon Pond House area. We will be working on the interior of Rockefeller Hall repairing the sewage system. Isle au Haut pier needs to be rebuilt in-place and hope to have it done by June 15th of this year. The Jordon Pond House lawn rehabilitation project will kick off this fall and it will have impacts with our concessioners so we are working closely with them. The job is to get the landscape
to stop the rainwater from running into the building and get it to run away from it. There will be enhancement to the landscape there. The historic Seawall Ranger Station is the check-in station for the campground and we will rehabilitate the structure this fall. It has seen no rehabilitation in fifty years. The 50,000 gallon Blackwoods Campground Water Storage Tank, which hides in the woods, sprung a leak in the bottom last year and it will be fixed. This fall, Wildwood Stables will be rehabilitating the 9-10 equestrian visitor campground area.
Looking ahead, we hope to attack some design efforts to include the Schoodic power line to that runs down to the peninsula. It was designed in the 1940s, is a flue for woodpeckers and regularly blows over every year in the winter. We will be looking at possibilities which include a whole range of options. We will be working on that through in-house committees and researching what our options might be. We are looking at our own visitor centers and a whole list of issues, including congestion inside the building. We are looking at adapting the space and the theater and how people move throughout the building. Probably a new facility if out several years on the horizon and we have to do something now. And Isle au Haut Road is going to get some work done, as well, over the next two years.
Just to have on your radar, we are working close with the State of Maine and the Town of Bar Harbor for utilizing the Paradise Hill Road as a detour once Route 3 gets underway in that area so we can help alleviate traffic congestion and, also, that road in cooperation with multiple entities will be open in the wintertime for northbound traffic while they are doing the work. That looks like 2017-18 but it may also be 2018-19. We are working closely with them and hoping to help with the congestion there.