At Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska, cruise ships negotiate the scenic bay for whale- and glacier watching, without disgorging their passengers on land. But in Maine, the arrival of the cruise ship industry with their thousands of disembarking passengers is posing a threat to Acadia National Park.
"They are huge. They’re about as big as one of the islands out in the bay. They dominate the setting while they’re here," says David MacDonald, president of Friends of Acadia.
While the ships haven't appeared to be impacting Frenchman's Bay and its marinelife, unlike those in Glacier Bay that on rare occasions strike humpback whales, the thousands of passengers that come ashore for day trips into Acadia are threatening the park's landscape and the very experience of visiting the park by literally busing in crowds to various areas of the park.
"This year there are 130 ships scheduled to come for a visit. Most come in the fall when two-three ships per day can be in port on the busiest days, and they will have up to 4-5,000 passengers disembark," says Acadia Superintendent Sheridan Steele.
The problem with so many passengers coming ashore, said both Mr. MacDonald and Superintendent Steele, is that they often are hauled in buses to the top of Cadillac Mountain, the tallest peak (1,530 feet) in both the park and along the North Atlantic Seaboard.
"The town has limited the total number of passengers coming into port at 5,000 per day," notes the park superintendent. "When many cruise ship excursion buses show up at the same time in the same place (for instance the Cadillac summit) it can be chaos. We are working with the cruise companies to address this kind of problem."
Adds Mr. MacDonald, "The park General Management Plan is 25 years old. The cruise ship industry wasn’t even on the radar screen when that was passed, so I think some updated thinking and management stratgeies for places like Cadillac, in particular, are overdue."
The issue is not lost on the town of Bar Harbor, where the chamber bureau supports "sustainable tourism," which it says is "the basic concept ... that tourism should protect the environment, preserve cultural heritage, and enable long-term, viable, and fairly distributed economic benefits for all stakeholders."
The town of Bar Habor long has studied the cruise ship issue, and has established a fee structure to help cover the costs of additional police, buses, and port development. Just the same, it's an issue that deserves monitoring and, if necessary, adaptation to protect park resources and the visitor experience.