ACADIA NAT’L PARK — People are “really trying to escape and get outdoors,” Acadia spokesperson Christie Anastasia said, after many spent the spring cooped up in lockdown.
Lots of folks are making a visit to the park a part of that escape. That’s what the park is for. And while most visitors are doing a good job adhering to social distancing and other rules, park staff are dealing with the same problems they see most years: out of bounds camping, congestion and accidents requiring search and rescue help.
And everything, from regular entrance pass sales to search and rescue, takes more work and more time “in a COVID world,” Anastasia said.
Interpretation programs with rangers are getting going. They’re almost all held outside anyway, so that helps with safety, but reservations are now required to keep group size at a safe level. Other programs, such as those in collaboration with the Schoodic Institute, are held virtually.
The park has put up signs on waterproof paper about face coverings and social distancing. At Sand Beach, for example, eight signs are posted, but Anastasia says she is still getting emails from people to say, “We need to post signs at Sand Beach.”
“People are just overwhelmed right now,” she said.
Rather than overall visitation counts, what matters more for management for visitor safety is the number at a particular location, such as Cadillac Mountain, the Bass Harbor Head Light House, Sand Beach and Thunder Hole, she said.
In the first three days of August, rangers closed the Cadillac Summit Road four times and the road to the lighthouse four times due to congestion. A few closures were also recorded in July.
“I can’t tell you how many closures we should have done (but didn’t) because staff weren’t available,” Anastasia noted.
The law enforcement rangers get a lot of accidental 911 calls, sometimes up to 10 a day, she said. There have been 16 search and rescue operations, according to Chief Ranger Thérèse Picard, down from 24 at this time last year, but they took longer than normal as rescuers navigated COVID-19 protocols.
Anastasia said park staff are looking forward to the pilot of the reservation system for Cadillac and Ocean Drive this fall, hoping it will give visitors a better idea of what they’ll find when they arrive.
“A lot of people are tired of the frustration of not knowing if they’re going to get where they’re [trying] to go,” she said.