Island Explorer Celebrates 5 Millionth Milestone 

In July of 2003, the Island Explorer welcomed its one millionth passenger onto their busses.

11 years later, the Acadia National Park transportation system is celebrating an even bigger milestone.

Joy Hollowell takes us to Bar Harbor.


“The bus system started in 1999,” explains Paul Murphy, general manager of Downeast Transportation which runs the non-profit bus system. “At that point we were 7 busses and our goal was to carry 1,000 passengers a day. Today, we carry an average of over 5,000 passengers a day.”

Including Marisa Gray, who had no idea just how momentous her bus trip Monday, June 30th, would be.

“Yeah, I just got on the bus and this lady came up to me,” says Gray.

Turns out, Gray is the Island Explorer’s 5 millionth customer. The MDI high schooler uses the free shuttle to get to work and around town.

“My dad works in Ellsworth and my step mom works in Ellsworth, so they don’t have time to drive me,” she explains.

Gray is part of a growing number of local teens who use the transportation system.

“over 20% of the passengers are local folks and they’re either commuting to work or commuting to recreation. So it doesn’t just serve the tourists,” says Murphy.

“My daughter is 15 and she uses it to get to work, to go to town,” adds David MacDonald, President of Friends of Acadia. “So that was one thing we really didn’t expect was how popular it would be, both with the visitors and the year round population here.”

The Island Explorer runs seven days a week, from the end of June through Columbus Day. The fleet of 34 propane-powered busses run to and from Acadia National Park. The program now averages close to half a million riders each season.

“There’s simply not enough space in the park to provide parking for all those cars,” says John Kelly, Park Planner for Acadia National Park.

The latest goal is to cater to day visitors to the park. There are plans to build a National Park Welcome Center and inter-modal transit facility in Trenton.

“If we can get them to turn in at the Trenton facility before they get to the bottle neck of the island, and offer them a good, safe place to park their car, and then hop onto the Island Explorer,” says Murphy.


In honor of being the 5 millionth passenger to ride the Island Bus Explorer, Marisa Gray was presented with gift bags from L.L. Bean and Friends of Acadia.

For more information on the free shuttle service, you can log onto