Date of Award

Spring 5-5-2023

Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Forest Resources


John J. Daigle

Second Committee Member

Sandra de Urioste-Stone

Third Committee Member

Adam W. Gibson

Additional Committee Members

Charlie Jacobi

Stephanie Clement


In 1916, the National Park Service (NPS) was established to preserve and protect the national parks for future generations, as stipulated in the Organic Act of 1916. Since then, the national parks have become a prominent tourist attraction in the United States (U.S.) and continue to draw significant numbers of visitors annually. Among these parks, Acadia National Park (ANP), located in the northeast corner of the U.S., stands out as a particularly distinctive example, having been founded in 1901 by private landowners with the aim of preserving the land. Cadillac Mountain, one of Acadia’s main visitor attractions, is the tallest mountain on the northeastern seaboard. The popular section of the park attracts numerous visitors, causing the parking lots at the top of Cadillac Mountain to become full, resulting in traffic congestion on both the lots and the summit road network. In 2015, ANP managers began planning efforts to create a Transportation Management Plan (TMP), with the assistance of the public, to provide a document that identifies the optimal means of offering secure and effective transportation services and a range of high-quality experiences for visitors, to protect park resources and values.

Implemented in May 2021, the Cadillac Mountain timed-entry reservation system regulates personal vehicle usage on the Cadillac Summit Road during peak season through designated date and time entries. Since the start of the timed-entry reservation system, it has had a significant impact on traffic congestion and visitor experience. By regulating the number of personal vehicle entries daily, the managed access system has helped reduce traffic volume, alleviate most of the parking congestion, and enhance the safety of the visitor experience in parking lots. The system allows visitors to plan their trips in advance, enabling a better experience for those who plan ahead and prepare. This system, however, is not without tradeoffs; the reservation process requires cellular connectivity or wireless internet to book a reservation, there may be limited availability during the peak season, and traffic congestion at the summit still may exist during certain times causing vehicles to spillover and park along the roadside.

The purpose of this paper is to analyze how the reservation system affects visitors' user experience and to provide park managers with valuable insights to make adaptive management changes to the system. Two objectives guided the study: first, to identify key areas of importance from the visitor experience, such as parking availability and safety, that the reservation system was intended to address. Second, to examine the relationships between visitor experience quality and first-time and returning visitors, and between those who experienced issues with the managed access system and those who did not. The study used a multistage cluster sampling design to systematically sample Cadillac Mountain visitors. The survey was administered using two main techniques: on-site through an in-person questionnaire and by email using the Qualtrics survey platform. The results provide insight into visitor satisfaction and importance to the reservation system and highlight areas for improvement.

The top three rated attributes visitors were most important and satisfied with were the opportunity to explore at their own pace, an unobstructed view of the scenery from the summit, and finding a parking spot at the summit. Visitors rated finding a parking spot as more important than their sense of safety and the number of visitors. The study highlights that the timed-entry reservation system addresses a long-standing issue of parking and congestion and is a favorable alternative to no management action. However, our study acknowledges that tradeoffs occur with a managed access system. These tradeoffs may initially have visitors reject the notion of access but will quickly find these attributes to be an asset to their visit. The evidence suggests that visitors now have a more satisfying experience on Cadillac Mountain because of the managed access system. This study gives valuable insights for park managers regarding visitor satisfaction with the reservation system. The results indicate that visitors prioritize exploring transportation-related attributes over social-related attributes. These findings can be used to inform future managed access systems and improve visitor experiences at Cadillac Mountain.