ACADIA NAT’L PARK — The numbers confirm what a lot of folks around here already know: Acadia visitation continued to set records well into the fall.
The 412,416 visitors estimated to have visited the park in October were 19.8 percent more than for the same month last year. That followed a visitation count of 570,434 in September, which was an increase of 19 percent over September 2015.
Through October, the park counted just over 3.23 million visitors. And there are still two months to go. Even if visitation during November and December tracks flat, Acadia is on track to exceed 3.3 million visitors in 2016.
The total for all of 2015 – itself a record-setting year – was 2.81 million.
This year started strong, with 17,202 visitors in January, 36.8 percent more than in January the year before. Visitation was up 55.6 percent in February, 55.7 percent in March and 49 percent in April.
Each of the first 10 months of the year saw more visitors than the corresponding month in 2015. August had the most visitors, an estimated 735,945.
Bus ridership record
The Island Explorer bus system, which serves the park and neighboring communities, carried 575,397 passengers this year, a 9 percent increase over last year.
Paul Murphy, general manager of Downeast Transportation, which operates the fare-free Island Explorer buses, said this year’s ridership total was 16 percent higher than in 2014 and up 36 percent from 2013.
“A majority of the growth this year came on the Eden Street route, which was up 26 percent over last year, the Campground route, up 21 percent, and the Jordan Pond route, up 9 percent,” Murphy said.
The bus route on the Schoodic Peninsula saw a tripling of ridership to about 7,900. That was due largely to the Schoodic Woods Campground, which was in its first full year of operation, and a doubling of the frequency of bus service.
The Island Explorer buses run from June 23 through Columbus Day each year, with reduced service on some routes after Labor Day.
Reasons for records
There are various theories as to why so many more people have visited Acadia this year than ever before: Both Acadia and the National Park Service celebrated their centennials. The economy continued to improve. Gasoline prices remained relatively low. And terrorist incidents, political turmoil and threats of the Zika virus in various parts of the world may have dissuaded some people from traveling abroad.
Acadia is now essentially tied with Grand Teton as America’s eighth most-visited national park. Through October, Acadia had an estimated 608 more visitors than the Wyoming park. Coincidentally, Kevin Schneider, who became superintendent of Acadia in January, previously was deputy superintendent at Grand Teton.
Acadia officials have said they are happy that so many people want to visit the park. But this year’s record-setting numbers have made its parking and traffic problems worse than ever, underscoring the need for a long-term solution.
Two months ago, park officials unveiled four “preliminary concept” options to guide the development of a comprehensive transportation plan for reducing congestion, improving safety and promoting high-quality visitor experiences. Yesterday, Nov. 30, was the deadline for public comment on the preliminary concepts.
The park’s transportation plan is to be finalized by fall 2018.