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June 6, 2023

Acadia to commission design for workforce housing development

one story green building Courtesy / John Kelly, National Park Service Harden Farm apartments is an Acadia property that provides seasonal employee housing.

As part of its quest to develop affordable housing for year-round and seasonal employees, Acadia National Park said it received federal funding to begin the design of a development that could have up to 60 beds.

Park officials told the Acadia National Park Advisory Commission on Monday that the park will discuss the project with the Bar Harbor Town Council in the coming weeks.

The park is eyeing a 3-acre parcel owned by the park on Harden Farm Road about a mile from Bar Harbor’s downtown and near an access point to Acadia. The parcel abuts a golf course and a cemetery.

The location has two, four-apartment buildings for employees that date back to the 1960s. Since that time, the park has eyed the parcel for further employee housing.

The park is in the process of finding a consultant to start the design work next year for a build-out that could accommodate 50 to 60 beds.

The project would entail hooking into the town’s water and sewer systems and the park has money to make those connections, officials said.

In total, Acadia needs 125 to 150 beds to support park employees and Friends of Acadia, as well as drivers for the Island Explorer shuttle.

Acadia is one of the most-visited national parks in the U.S.; in 2022, it had 3.97 million visitors, just shy of the park’s record-breaking 4.07 million in 2021.

The park is working with Friends of Acadia to try to create additional housing capacity.

Earlier this year, Friends of Acadia bought the Kingsleigh Inn in Southwest Harbor as part of a broader strategy to help Acadia address the lack of housing on Mount Desert Island by converting the inn to workforce housing for Acadia’s seasonal employees.

At that time, Superintendent Kevin Schneider said the park wasn’t able to fill all of its available seasonal positions last year, largely because of the lack of housing options in and around Acadia. 

Friends of Acadia President and CEO Eric Stiles said the organization’s goal was to add 130 new beds over the next decade for the park and its partners.

The organization has developed a three-pronged approach that includes adding bedrooms to park units already in use, repurposing commercial properties such as the Kingsleigh, and building new housing on sites within Acadia.

The housing crisis is not unique to Acadia; it’s an issue faced by many parks throughout the National Park Service. 

Each spring, the park and Friends of Acadia each hire seasonal staff to complement full-time teams and support increases in park visitation, Shannon Bryan, Friends of Acadia’s content and website manager, wrote in 2022.

Friends hires around 15 seasonal employees each year, including summit stewards, a Wild Gardens intern, recreational technicians, stewardship crew leaders and members of the Acadia digital media team. Acadia’s seasonal employees do everything from managing trails, assisting visitors and maintaining buildings to ensuring visitor safety and cleaning restrooms.

“In recent years, filling those vital seasonal roles, as well as full-time positions at the park, has become more challenging,” Bryan wrote. “The reasons why are multifaceted, but one significant factor is the lack of affordable housing on and near Mount Desert Island.”

In fall 2020, the Friends of Acadia Board of Directors established a seasonal employee housing committee to tackle the issue on several fronts that include:

  • Identifying local property owners and landlords willing to convert weekly rentals into longer-term seasonal housing
  • Networking with partners and property owners who might be interested in conveying land to the park or to Friends of Acadia for housing
  • Assisting the park by funding renovations that would remodel existing park buildings to create more beds
  • Hiring locally when possible

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