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Updated: April 10, 2024

$3.3M seasonal housing development underway at Acadia National Park

3 people putting  up building parts Courtesy / Julia Walker Thomas, Friends of Acadia Workers with E.L. Shea Builders & Engineers of Ellsworth recently raised pre-fabricated roof trusses for the employee housing project.

New housing is under construction in Seal Harbor — part of a Friends of Acadia initiative to create homes for eight seasonal employees of Acadia National Park.

The residential units are being built on the Dane Farm property, at 73 and 75 Jordan Pond Road. Seal Harbor is a village of the town of Mount Desert, on Mount Desert Island, where the bulk of Acadia National Park is located. 

Workers with E.L. Shea Builders & Engineers of Ellsworth recently poured concrete basement walls and raised pre-fabricated roof trusses for the project.

2 people buliding a building
Courtesy / Julia Walker Thomas, Friends of Acadia
The buildings are designed to a LEED Silver standard for green building certification.

FOA acquired the four-acre parcel in September 2023 from Seal Harbor Properties LLC for $265,000.

Seal Harbor was once a summer home to financier and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller Jr. and then his son David Rockefeller Sr.,  who was chairman and CEO of Chase Manhattan Corp. Seal Harbor Properties LLC is governed by members of the Rockefeller family.

The estimated cost for construction is $3.3 million. The project is being financed through Friends of Acadia donors.

The property, within Acadia’s administrative boundary, had been used as a gravel pit used for materials and equipment storage. The development includes a primary residence with five bedrooms and an accessory dwelling with three bedrooms.

The $3.3 million price tag comes to $412,000 per unit. That might seem high to some. But, said Stiles, the homes are designed to last for a long life cycle.

“We have to look at life cycle costs over time,” he said. “At current rates, in essence we’re saying, 'Are we willing to spend that per person over the next hundred years?'”

The LEED Silver standard and the hundred-year standard are expected to result in energy savings and lower carbon footprint, along with minimal maintenance costs the first couple of decades, he added. The five-unit house will have a solar array on the roof.

Rental rates of the units for the seasonal six-month positions will be roughly $700 per room per month, compared with $1,500 to $2,000 at minimum elsewhere on Mount Desert  Island, he noted. Rent money is returned to the Dane Farm project for continued maintenance.

The units will allow Acadia National Park to hire more seasonal staff, using federal funds that are already appropriated for the purpose. Last year, due to lack of affordable housing, Acadia was only able to hire 114 seasonal staffers, compared with the 175 authorized.

“The lowest price point per room over time, hands down, is building new,” Stiles said.

The project has some interesting design elements.

“First, this site had been a public works yard — gravel pit — so by the very nature of the project, it will increase the natural resource value on several levels," said Eric Stiles, FOA’s president and CEO.

The two buildings are both designed to a LEED Silver standard for green building certification, with elements that include good insulation and local sourcing of products and contractors. The five-bedroom building will have solar panels. 

chart with lines and color blocks
Friends of Acadia acquired four acres in Seal Harbor for $265,000.

The housing units are consistent with National Park Service housing code and designed to last 50 years or more. Their aesthetic is consistent in look and feel to other park housing at Acadia.

When completed, FOA will donate the land and buildings to Acadia for long-term ownership and management.

It’s expected the units will be available for summer 2025.

Acadia’s leadership has said that the local housing shortage has a direct impact on its ability to hire a seasonal workforce, from April through October, to provide a quality visitor experience, care for cultural and natural resources, make progress on diversity and inclusion initiatives, and advance other strategic priorities.

The project is part of FOA’s broader strategy to help Acadia address the housing crisis on Mount Desert Island. 

“The work to plan and assess how best to address Acadia’s seasonal housing crisis began in the fall of 2020 when the Friends of Acadia Board established the Seasonal Workforce Housing Committee,” said Stiles.

“By 2022, we had a housing strategy that included short-, mid- and long-term solutions.”

In 2023, the momentum grew with the purchase of the 10-bedroom Kingsleigh Inn in Southwest Harbor, renovation of existing park housing, and then the purchase of land and start of construction at Dane Farm. FOA is also renting seven RV pads for the park. 

By 2025, the total will add up to housing for at least 28 of Acadia’s seasonal employees, said Stiles.

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