ACADIA NAT’L PARK — Almost no one would argue that Acadia isn’t seriously overcrowded in the summer and early fall.
It certainly feels that way to a lot of visitors and local residents, and statistics bear that out.
But statistics can also be misleading when it comes to comparing Acadia’s visitation problem with that of other national parks.
Acadia was the seventh most-visited of America’s 59 national parks last year with an estimated 3.58 million visits.
According to data compiled by the National Park Service, Acadia had 72.1 visitors per acre. Because Acadia, with about 47,000 acres, is so much smaller than any of the other parks on the 10-most-visited list, its visitors-per-acre is much higher.
For example, Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee had by far the most visitors of any national park last year, an estimated 11.4 million. But at 11 times the size of Acadia, it had only 21.9 visitors per acre.
Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona had an estimated 6.4 million visitors, nearly twice as many as Acadia. But with 1.2 million acres, it is 26 times the size of Acadia, and its visitors per acre was only 5.2.
Yosemite National Park in California, with an estimated visitor total of four million, had only 5.4 visitors for each of its more than 748,000 acres. That means Acadia had 14 times as many visitors per acre.
Can that be right? Is Acadia really that much more crowded than these other popular parks?
Acadia is a relatively small park, and visitors go to just about every part of it. Cars, vans, buses and bikes travel the 27- mile Park Loop Road and Cadillac Mountain summit road. Walkers and bikers use the 45 miles of carriage roads within the park. And hikers cover the more than 120 miles of trails.
In Yosemite, by comparison, a large percentage of visitors never venture beyond Yosemite Valley, Mariposa Grove and, once the snow has melted, Glacier Point. So, much of the park’s vast acreage is largely untouched wilderness.
At Grand Canyon, visitors congregate around relatively small sections of the South Rim and North Rim. Some hike or ride mules down into the canyon, but most of the park remains unvisited.
Great Smoky Mountains is bisected by a highway that connects the tourist meccas of Asheville and Cherokee, N.C. and Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, Tenn. Hiking and camping are popular in the Smokies, but many of the park’s visitors are just passing through – maybe stopping for a picnic lunch or to watch a bear and her cubs.
Zion National Park in Utah is three times the size of Acadia, but it has less than half the number of visitors per acre because most of the park’s 4.3 million visitors cluster in Zion Canyon.
All of this means that, statistically, Acadia has a much worse overcrowding problem than any other national park in the country. But in reality, its problem isn’t necessarily greater than what many of the other most-popular parks are experiencing.