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Long-Time Acadia Concessioner Shaken by Park Service Rejection
09/30/2013   Reported By: Jay Field

An era will likely come to an end when concession stands and a restaurant at Acadia National Park close for the season later this fall. Since 1933, a local company, Acadia Corporation, has run these businesses inside the park. But earlier this month, the National Park Service chose not to renew the firm's contract, offering it instead to a concessioner based in New Mexico. As Jay Field reports, officials with Acadia Corp say they're disappointed by the move and question whether an out-of-state operator will be as committed to hiring local people and sourcing local products.

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It's a little after ten in the morning - misty, foggy - and a group is arriving on the lawn at the Jordan Pond House. A New England tour group is filing in and taking seats at picnic tables.

"We're in a glacial valley, looking out on perfect twin peaks at the end of a glacial lake that's over 200-feet deep. It's just a pristine spot," says Dave Woodside.

Woodside says visitors and locals first began enjoying meals at Jordan Pond House in the late 1800s. The company Woodside runs, Acadia Corporation, began serving meals here in 1948, 15 years after it opened its first park concession atop Cadillac Mountain.

In 1998, Congress passed a law requiring operators like Acadia to renew their contracts every 10 years. The company had expected to hear something on its latest application back in the spring.

"We kept wondering what was going to happen," Woodside says. "And then we got the call last Monday that our contract was not going to be renewed."

Beginning next year, the Jordan Pond House and Acadia National Park's other concessions will be run by Dawnland LLC, a New Mexico-based firm. Two-thirds of Acadia Corp's revenues come from its businesses inside the park. At the height of the summer, the company typically employs around 200 people, 120 of whom work inside Acadia's grounds. The company also buys much of its food and merchandise wholesale from local vendors.

"We expect to downsize in our out-of-park, Bar Harbor operations to less than 50 people," Woodside says. "It's a half-million dollars in salaries alone because we are based here. It's just the difference between a local company and a company where most of the decisions are made somewhere else, by people who are not here."

Woodside says his company has had good relationships with Acadia's superintendent and other local park administrators. But they don't play a role in the contracting process. "The 1998 Concessions Act changed the selection process a little bit."

Jon Meade runs business services for the Northeast Region of the National Park Service. Meade says companies submit applications, which are graded on criteria such as protecting natural cultural resources, value to the visitor and the financial capability of the applicant. A panel of park service officials vote on all the bids and award the contract to the one that gets the highest score.

Meade says he can't offer specifics on why Dawnland was chosen instead of Acadia Corp, "because we are still developing the contract for that winning bid. There's some information about the other offers and the scores, and the information around that that we can't release right now."

Dawnland LLC, meantime, says it's committed to rehiring Acadia Corp's employees and working with area food suppliers and other vendors. Shane Ortega runs Dawnland's parent company, Ortega National Parks.

"Although I acknowledge that talk is cheap, the previous locations that we have taken over, we've had a good history of offering employment to everybody who has been working there before," Ortega says. "Not just offering them employment, but paying them a little bit more than they were paid before because it's the right thing to do a lot of the time."

But workers at Acadia Corp say they'll need to see that to believe it. Gabriele Martina works in the restaurant at Jordan Pond House. "I don't think I would have a job for very long here," she says.

National Park Service contracts that are greater than $5 million need to be approved by Congress. Acadia Corp officials say they've been talking with members of Maine's congressional delegation to see if there's anything they can do to get the National Park Service to reconsider its decision.


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