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.