In this October 2013 file photo visitors at Acadia National Park walk toward the main entrance of the park's visitors center in Bar Harbor after the park had been closed for 16 days due to the federal shutdown. Credit: Bill Trotter

Nearly 90 percent of the written comments Acadia National Park received about a draft traffic management plan are identical form letters written by a parks advocacy group.

Park officials are in the process of developing a traffic management plan that they hope will ease the seasonal crunch of private vehicles in Acadia, which last year set a record with 3.5 million visits. In its draft plan, the park indicates its preferred alternative is to establish a seasonal vehicle reservation system for Ocean Drive, the Cadillac Mountain summit road and a parking lot just north of the Jordan Pond House — and to be able to require vehicle reservations in other parts of the park on an as-needed basis.

The letter, which National Parks Conservation Association had made available for downloading on its website, says that vehicle congestion in the park has increased by 60 percent in the past decade and is “degrading park resources, marring the visitor experience, and causing safety issues for visitors on foot and bike.” It encourages the park to adopt a vehicle reservation system.

“With more cars in the park than ever before, popular sites like Thunder Hole, Cadillac Mountain, and Jordan Pond are bottlenecked by vehicle traffic,” the letter says, a copy of which the group provided to the Bangor Daily News. “Parking reservations are an important tool to protect park ecosystems while providing public access.”

The park has received about 6,000 of the form letters, which NPCA encouraged people to sign and send to park officials during a recent public comment period on the preliminary plan. The 60-day public comment period closed June 26.

Of the NPCA form letters that were submitted, roughly 250 were sent in with added personal comments from people who wanted to weigh in, according to park spokesperson Christie Anastasia. The rest were sent without any added information from the individual senders. In addition, 489 people or organizations sent in comments they wrote themselves, she said.

Anastasia said the heavy volume of the form letters won’t have any weighted influence on the plan, a final version of which is expected to be adopted by the park sometime this coming winter. All the copies of the form letter that do not have added, personalized comments from the senders are being treated as one comment submitted by the NPCA, as if the organization simply had sent in one copy of the letter on its own. Copies of the form letter that have added, personalized comments from people who sent them in are being counted separately.

“Volume doesn’t have any undue impact,” Anastasia said.

Lauren Cosgrove, northeast project manager for NPCA, said Tuesday that though the group supports implementation of a seasonal parking reservation system at Acadia, it does not think there should be a reservation system for the full length of Ocean Drive, which stretches from Sand Beach past Thunder Hole to Otter Cliffs. It would rather see a reservation system for certain parking areas along Ocean Drive such as at Sand Beach and Thunder Hole, she said, and thinks companies with commercial operator licenses in the park also should be subject to the reservation requirement.

“Overall, we do support the [proposed] reservation system in the park,” Cosgrove said, adding that such reservations now are required in California at Muir Woods National Monument and for buses at part of Yosemite National Park. “We think they are a good traffic management tool.”

The park has not publicly released the comments it received because such a release was not authorized by the language of the notice that was published in the Federal Register — which Anastasia said was an oversight.

Though the notice explicitly says that comments submitted “may be made publicly available at any time,” including personal identifying information submitted with each comment, the notice did not cite the required authorization for releasing the information, which means that releasing the information could be considered a violation of the federal Privacy Act, Anastasia said.

She said park officials are trying to retroactively amend the notice so it includes proper authorization to release the comments for public review.

Anastasia said that whatever traffic management changes are adopted at Acadia are not expected to go into effect until sometime in 2020.

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Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....