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July 3, 2024

Much-needed housing acquired for Acadia's Island Explorer bus drivers

This is an aerial view of land and woods with a dotted line delineating a section. Photo / Courtesy, Sargent Real Estate Friends of Acadia bought 18 acres in Trenton that includes six townhouses, which will be used as much-needed residences for Island Explorer bus drivers beginning in 2025.

Friends of Acadia has bought property in Trenton that includes six townhouses, which will be used as housing for Island Explorer bus drivers beginning in 2025.

The 18-acre property at 39 Jordan River Road also includes undeveloped land that the Friends said offers expansion opportunities for additional workforce housing for Acadia National Park and its partners.

The Island Explorer is a free, seasonal shuttle serving Acadia National Park and Mount Desert Island and operated by the nonproift transit service Downeast Transportation.

The property is about a mile from the Acadia Gateway Center on Route 3 in Trenton, where Downeast Transportation has its bus maintenance facility and a park-and-ride lot, and where an Acadia welcome center is under construction.

Friends of Acadia facilitated that project as well when it bought 152 acres in Trenton and sold it to the Department of Transportation to carry forward the center’s construction.

“This is an ideal location for Island Explorer’s seasonal employees given that it’s only about a mile from Downeast Transportation headquarters and the new Acadia Gateway Center,” said Eric Stiles, Friends of Acadia’s president and CEO. 

The addition of workforce housing is expected to help Downeast Transportation find, recruit and retain Island Explorer bus drivers, he added.

Friends of Acadia is a conservation nonprofit focused on Acadia National Park and surrounding communities.

The Jordan River Road property, overlooking a 156-acre nature preserve, includes six two-bedroom townhouses that were built in 1985. Friends of Acadia plans to renovate and convert the structures to seasonal workforce housing for Acadia and its partners, with first priority for Downeast Transportation’s Island Explorer bus drivers in 2025.

The Friends said it would continue to pay full property taxes on the property. However, the plan is to outsource leasing and day-to-day management of the property to a third-party that will work directly with individual seasonal employees housed there.

The property was listed as package of five parcels by Sargent Real Estate for $1.6 million and sold for $1.5 million. 

Both Acadia National Park and Downeast Transportation have had serious difficulty attracting seasonal workers in recent years, and the lack of affordable workforce housing is a key factor, according to Friends of Acadia.

“Having housing options for bus drivers when we begin recruiting is critical,” said Paul Murphy, Downeast Transportation’s executive director. “We can’t hire enough people without it.”

In recent years, Downeast Transportation has aimed to hire about 120 seasonal bus drivers to operate the Island Explorer. But for the last couple of years, it’s had a shortage of between 25 and 40 drivers. 

Acadia National Park’s Transportation Plan calls for expansion of Island Explorer routes and service with the opening of the Acadia Gateway Center in the spring of 2025.

“We will need even more drivers to meet the needs of the park and surrounding communities in 2025 and beyond,” Murphy said. “This really helps.”

The project is part of an ongoing push by the Friends to develop workforce housing for Acadia and its partners. Last year, it bought s four-acre parcel in a Mount Desert Island village called Seal Harbor in order to develop housing for seasonal employees of Acadia National Park. A $3.3 million construction project began there earlier this year to build eight residential units. It’s expected the units will be available for summer 2025.

And the group bought a 10-bedroom inn in Southwest Harbor for Acadia’s seasonal employees.

Friends of Acadia doesn’t have immediate plans for further development of the Jordan River Road site, but opportunity was a key attractor, said Stiles. 

“We look forward to working with our partners at the park and Downeast Transportation, and in consultation with the neighbors, the town of Trenton, and Frenchman Bay Conservancy to create a master plan for future development that has both seasonal and year-round housing,” Stiles said.

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