In this 2009 file photo, several gold-painted shovels lay on a pile of dirt as officials wait to take part in a groundbreaking ceremony for an Island Explorer operations center at the Acadia Gateway Center on Route 3 in Trenton. Construction of a nearby $27 million visitor's center at the same property is expected to begin this spring. Credit: Bill Trotter / BDN

After decades of planning, construction is about to begin on a new visitor’s center and transit hub on Route 3 in Trenton.

The idea of building a facility where visitors to Acadia National Park could park their vehicles, get information about the park and surrounding towns, and then ride the Island Explorer bus system to and from Mount Desert Island has been in the planning stages for at least 20 years.

Both state and federal officials have said that development of a visitor’s center in Trenton is key to mitigating the impacts of increasing seasonal congestion on MDI, where for the past two summers tourists have flocked in record numbers to Acadia and Bar Harbor.

The Route 3 site, first acquired by Friends of Acadia in 2004, has been home to the Island Explorer operations center for the past 11 years. This month the Maine Department of Transportation, which now owns the 150-acre parcel, awarded a $27 million contract to Nickerson & O’Day of Brewer to construct the visitor’s center and an adjacent parking lot with spaces for 298 vehicles plus an additional 10 spaces for buses or RV’s.

Paul Merrill, spokesman for Maine DOT, said that construction should start in the next month or so and be completed in May 2025. Most of the funding for the project is coming from the Federal Transit Administration, with smaller amounts being provided by MDOT, the National Park Service and Friends of Acadia.

Because the site lies outside physical limits set by Congress in 1986 on how far Acadia can expand, the park cannot own the property. But Acadia plans to help run the facility with the Maine Tourism Association, park officials have said.

“We are pleased to see the project reach this milestone after many years of coordination with MaineDOT,”  said Kevin Schneider, superintendent of Acadia, Thursday. “The Acadia Gateway Center is a key component of the park’s transportation plan, and we look forward to partnering with the state to operate the facility starting in 2025.”   

Public parking and the ability to board Island Explorer buses to MDI have been available at the Trenton property for more than a decade, but the site has lacked public restrooms or staffing to help orient visitors. The new 9,500-square-foot visitor’s center will have these services and is expected to boost the sales of park entrance passes, and to help connect visitors with road-based commercial tours and other park concessioners such as guide services, park officials said.

The contract to Nickerson & O’Day is the second major Acadia-related construction contract that the Brewer company has been awarded in the past two months.

In February, the National Park Service gave the firm a $33 million contract to construct a new maintenance department building on the park’s administrative campus on Route 233 in Bar Harbor. Work on that project also is scheduled to begin this spring but is expected to be completed in February of next year, park officials said.

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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....