Acadia visits could top four million

ACADIA NAT’L PARK — “We are likely to go over four million visits this year for the first time in the park’s history,” Superintendent Kevin Schneider told the Acadia Advisory Commission on Monday. 

The previous record of just over 3.5 million visits was set in 2017. 

The estimated number of visits this August was 792,310, a record high for what is typically the park’s busiest month. The previous record for August of 762,436 visits was set in 2017. 

So far this year, through August, Acadia has logged more than 2.7 million visits. That compares to just under 2.4 million through the first eight months of 2018, a record high until now. 

“Since October of 2020, every single month has been a record month here,” said Acadia Social Scientist Adam Gibson. “So far this year, visitation is about 22 percent above the five-year pre-pandemic average.” 

He said that, according to Maine Department of Transportation traffic counts, there are not a lot more people coming to Maine this year than usual, but more visitors to Maine are coming to Acadia. 

“Most of those are entering Acadia in cars, not motor coaches or Island Explorer buses,” Gibson said. “This has resulted in about 190,000 more vehicles entering the park than in previous years, which is an unfortunate trend.” 

In 2019, the year before the COVID-19 pandemic curtailed tourism nationwide, Acadia had more than one million visits in September and October combined. If visitation this fall is comparable, Acadia could well end the year with more than four million visits. 

The park uses a formula to arrive at an estimate of the number of visits each month, not the number of individual visitors; some people visit the park multiple times. 

Reservations helping 

Park officials said the new timed-entry reservation system for regulating the number of private vehicles at the Cadillac Mountain summit has worked extremely well. 

“There is a very strong relationship between the traffic counts we get at the Sand Beach entrance station and visitation at Cadillac,” Gibson said.  “So, we can use those traffic counts to predict what visitation would have been like for Cadillac this year had we not had a reservation system in place. 

“We would have been overparked [in the Cadillac summit parking lot] by an average of 600 cars each day. There are about 157 spaces up there, so we would have seen some serious issues.” 

Rescues double 

This year’s park visitation numbers tell a dramatic story. 

“Our rescue and EMS loads are just as telling about what a busy summer it has been,” Chief Ranger Therese Picard told the Advisory Commission. 

“Normally, for a calendar year through August, we would be seeing 24 to 27 rescues. This year through August, we have had 50 rescues, about double what we normally see.” 

She said a rescue involves more than going to see if someone needs help or offering them a pair of crutches. 

“It’s more than a walkout,” she said. “It’s normally carrying somebody out on a litter. Each rescue takes anywhere from 15 to 30 people, depending on where the person is and the terrain.  

“About 50 percent of the rescues are due to lower limb injuries. They sprain an ankle, sprain a knee or break a leg and can no longer bear their own weight and walk out.” 

Rescues often involve the park’s law enforcement rangers, other park staff and the volunteers of Mount Desert Island Search and Rescue. 

Picard said EMS calls are up, as well, from an average of about 90 to 116 this year through August.  

“And that doesn’t show any signs of slowing down for the fall,” she said. “The fall is actually one of our busiest times.’ 

An EMS response can be triggered by anything from “a simple skinned knee all the way to a cardiac issue,” she said.  

The park runs a basic EMT program for all of the law enforcement rangers, and it has what Picard describes as “great partnerships” with all of the ambulance services in the area. 

A most-visited park 

In each of the past several years, Acadia has been the seventh most-visited national park in the country. This year’s high visitation numbers here might not change that ranking because parks across the country are also seeing record numbers of visitors. 

Of the 63 national parks, the 10 most visited in 2019 were, in order, Great Smoky Mountains, Grand Canyon, Rocky Mountain, Zion, Yosemite, Yellowstone, Acadia, Grand Teton, Olympic and Glacier. 

The least-visited national park is Gates of the Arctic in Alaska, which typically has about 11,000 visitors a year. 

Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]

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