ACADIA NATIONAL PARK — That sound you hear coming from park headquarters on McFarland Hill is a huge sigh of relief that a federal government shutdown has been averted – at least for now.
A bill to continue funding the government through Dec. 11 cleared Congress on Wednesday just hours before the midnight deadline for keeping money flowing to federal departments past the end of the fiscal year.
Acadia officials had been preparing to close the park Thursday and send most employees home in the event of a government shutdown. Deputy Superintendent Mike Madell said the park was set to implement the shutdown plan that the National Park Service (NPS) had developed for all 400-plus NPS units.
Under that plan, the NPS would have taken “all necessary steps to close and secure national park facilities and grounds in order to suspend all activities except those that are essential to respond to emergencies involving the safety of human life or the protection of property.
“Whenever possible, park roads will be closed and access will be denied,” the contingency plan stated. “Day use visitors will be instructed to leave the park … [and] visitors utilizing overnight concession accommodations and campgrounds will be notified to make alternate arrangements and depart the park … .”
The 16-day government shutdown in 2013, caused by a partisan stalemate in Congress, is still painfully fresh in the minds of many business owners and others on and around Mount Desert Island. Visitors eager to see the park in peak foliage arrived to find locked gates. Cruise ship bus tours were forced to find routes outside the park.
A government report on the impact of that shutdown found that Acadia had 67 percent fewer visitors in October 2013 than in the same month the year before, resulting in an estimated loss of $16.2 million in spending within 60 miles of the park. According to the report, visitors spend about $10 in NPS units and gateway communities for every $1 in federal funding for the parks.
Now, Acadia officials are hoping Congress doesn’t cause another shutdown scare by waiting until Dec. 11 to fund the federal government for the remainder of the fiscal year.