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Shuttling to Acadia


    There aren't that many parks that have shuttle systems in place. The one at Zion National Park gets the most attention because, I believe, it was the first to arrive in the national park system, debuting back in 2000.
    There are others -- one at Bryce Canyon, although it's optional, and one at Acadia, which also is optional. And while the Grand Canyon has a nice shuttle system once you arrive at the South Rim, so far dollars and consensus remain far apart when talk turns to a mass transit system that might solve the annual summer nightmare of trying to drive, and park, your own rig on the Rim.
    But more and more communities are "getting it" when talk turns to mass transit. Earlier this year the folks in Visalia, California, opted to spend $2 million or more dollars on buses to shuttle visitors from their community 55 miles to Sequoia National Park. Their thought? Do something to reduce traffic and congestion and parking woes.
    Back in Maine, the folks around Acadia have been so thrilled with their propane-powered Island Explorer shuttle bus system that they're aiming to build a transportation hub just off Mount Desert Island that, hopefully, will ease traffic from day trippers visiting the park.

    The plan calls for the "Acadia Gateway Center" to be built near Trenton, just west of the Route 3 bridge that crosses the Mount Desert Narrows and lands you on the island. As currently envisioned, Friends of Acadia would purchase 369 acres near Trenton and sell a big chunk of that land to the state of Maine, which would then construct the transportation hub with a mix of state and federal dollars.
    The first phase of the project would cost about $12 million, and $7 million of that money already is in hand, according to John Kelly, Acadia's park planner. That phase, he tells me, would involve site work, building the entrance road and a bus maintenance facility, and providing parking for about 550 cars.
    If things go as planned, ground-breaking could take place during the summer or fall of 2008.
    Phase II, meanwhile, carries a $10 million cost and would involve an inter-modal transportation facility and space for chamber of commerce offices and a park welcome center.
    Currently, the Island Explorer fleet counts 29 buses, and Kelly says that currently there are no plans to increase that number. There also are no plans to make use of the buses mandatory.
    "We're not at the point of making it a requirement, but it is an option down the road," he says.
    The project recently passed a significant milestone when NPS and Federal Transit Administration officials determined the project would not create a significant environmental impact.
    Located just about 13 miles from downtown Bar Harbor, this transportation hub seems well-located to help ease traffic and congestion on Mount Desert Island yet not force park day trippers to endure a long ride to their destination.


Last time I was in the Tuolumne area of Yosemite, I was leisurely hiking a high country trail, when I was passed at breakneck speed by a woman asking me what time it was. I told her and she said "Oh I have to hurry to make the YARTs bus at the trailhead". The last thing I want to do when visiting a National Park is be ruled by a g. d. bus schedule.

Kath, The shuttles at Zion come by every 10 to 15 minutes on average. Hurrying to "make a bus" and being ruled by a bus schedule is a choice. If you miss a bus, oh my god, you might have to sit still for an entire 10 to 15 minutes and actually enjoy the non-moving scenery. The last thing I want to do when visiting a national park is circle for half an hour trying to find parking.

Or, you can bike, not wait, feel great, and generally get a campsite even when they are full...on the other hand, you have to watch out for those RVs...

There are two types of bus systems. There's YARTS in Yosemite and the proposed Visalia to Sequoia 50 some mile trek and on the other hand there are shuttle systems that go short distances and come by frequently. A shuttle system can work, such as the Yosemite Valley shuttle. Long distance slogs with long delays between bus arrivals won't. I'd rather have a reservation system limiting the number of people that can crowd into a park on any given day than be herded around on a bus with 50 or 60 other people arriving at the trailhead or viewpoint at the same time. Last time we went to Grand Canyon, we had my mother-in-law with us. She has some difficulty walking so we had a handicap tag. It allowed us to go to the South Rim viewpoints with our car. We had the viewpoints, the quiet, the majesty of the Canyon to ourselves. The poor folks who had to take the shuttle bus didn't get to enjoy that experience. Then, because it was a bitterly cold day, they had to stand and wait in the cold for the next shuttle. (The trail along the South Rim at the far western edge is there but was marked as dangerous and not advised.)

"We had the viewpoints, the quiet, the majesty of the Canyon to ourselves. The poor folks who had to take the shuttle bus didn't get to enjoy that experience." You need to read my posts on Zion solitude hikes. Being a "poor folk" who "had" to take the shuttle bus, I can tell you I have enjoyed exactly the experience you've described, and I had it without polluting the air with noise or chemicals. You make shuttles sound like a prison. They're freeing really. At Zion, I met several visitors on the shuttles with whom I'm still in contact. I got to chat with other hikers. It's an incredibly rewarding social situation. It's also incredibly egalitarian. My last season at Sequoia, someone pulled in front of me on the way to the valley, and I was without a car for a month. I had no way to explore the park because hitch hiking was prohibited, there was no public transportation, and people were unwilling or unable to car share. A long distance bus system, like the one in the works at SEKI, could have saved my summer. If you think public transportation to see the parks is a hardship, then you should have seen these places 100+ years ago, and you'd know what real hardship looks like.

I'm going to defend Kath here. First of all, she is right, the YARTS in Yosemite are totally different from a intrapark shuttle system. If you missed a YART, you'd be pissed. It would be worth running down the trail to catch. And, for all the good a shuttle system provides, it does change the way that people experience the park. Much has been written about the relationship between Americans and our cars. Cars provide a freedom and privacy that cannot be duplicated in a shuttle. I believe that a shuttle system is probably the best solution to an overpopulation of cars in any particular park. But, it should at least be understood that the shuttles will fundamentally change the way *most* people will interact with their parks. For some this will be a welcome change, for others it will not.

>>...shuttles will fundamentally change the way *most* people will interact with their parks.<< I'm not sure I'd go that far, Jeremy. No doubt about it, Americans love their cars. I know I do. But in a park, that love affair can be parked (yes, pun intended.) without leading to divorce. In my experience, the bulk of folks visiting parks drive from viewpoint to viewpoint with their rigs, hop out for the obligatory photo opt, hop back in and drive to the next overlook. Shuttle buses can easily handle that task in a way that reduces congestion, pollution and frayed nerves. Might you have to wait a few minutes for the next bus? Possibly. But what's the problem with that? Hikers head to a trailhead, park their cars and disappear into the backcountry, either for an afternoon or a few days, then backtrack. Shuttle buses certainly can address their needs, and they do at Grand Canyon. For those hikers on a way-one trek, shuttles are invaluable, as they negate the need for a car shuttle. And really, do you want to leave your car parked at a trailhead for a week while you're in the backcountry? At Acadia, the Island Explorer system utilizes a board at each stop that displays the number of minutes before the next bus arrives, as well, I believe, as the general schedule. Makes it pretty easy to plan your stay. I've ridden shuttles at Zion, at Yosemite around the valley floor, and at the Grand Canyon's South Rim, and found them incredibly user-friendly. And the fact that I didn't have to idle in traffic or circle lots looking for a parking spot was priceless. My time was better spent enjoying the parks. Granted, shuttles at big, sprawling parks such as Yellowstone would require some compromises for folks with a specific destination in mind and who don't want to shuttle along from viewpoint to viewpoint until they reach that destination. But I think the stakes are high enough in terms of overcrowding, congestion, and pollution, that we'd be wise to turn to well-thought-out shuttle systems and be willing to change our habits when it comes to visiting the parks.

I think we're on the same page here Kurt. When I said "most", I was thinking of the visitor you describe, hopping from overlook to overlook in their car. The time spent at that overlook might be less than 5 minutes, but if the shuttle only comes every 15 minutes, the nature of that "quick stop for a photo" fundamentally changes. I agree that shuttle systems within parks are a good solution. I think driving around and around a small parking lot, hoping to catch someone as they leave is an experience far worse than having to wait a short time for the next shuttle to come by. And with fewer cars to worry about, just think, we could turn all those black-topped parking lots back into open green spaces! I imagine the shuttle solution is one we'll see in more parks in the decades to come.

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