BAR HARBOR — Last week, Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt directed the National Park Service to waive entrance fees in an effort to promote healthy outdoor recreation as people adjust to the changes that have come with the spread of the new coronavirus.
And gateway communities including Bar Harbor are weighing in. The town is asking the state government and Acadia National Park for help letting potential visitors know that during the current health emergency, tourist services are extremely limited.
Meeting via videoconference Friday, the Bar Harbor Town Council approved a statement saying that, while the town “appreciates visitors and tourist-based businesses, at this time, we recommend that everyone stay at home and avoid unnecessary travel.”
Councilor Jill Goldthwait noted that in Moab, Utah, a gateway community to Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park, lodging establishments are closed to all but “essential visitors.” That’s by order of the Southeast Utah Health Department.
In Maine, Governor Janet Mills has ordered restaurants and bars to cease dine-in service and prohibited all gatherings of more than 10 people.
At the Friday council meeting, Goldthwait called lodging businesses “the elephant in the room.”
“It would be helpful if we had some guidance from the state,” she said.
“We hope you will consider a uniform, statewide policy on tourism and travel,” Council Chair Jeff Dobbs wrote to Governor Mills Friday, on behalf of the council and the town. “The CDC stops short of recommending a ban on travel and it would be difficult for one community alone to ask lodging establishments to close.”
The council’s statement was also sent to Acadia Superintendent Kevin Schneider, who would make the call whether to open motor roads and other visitor services on the usual mid-April schedule.
After pleasant weather over the weekend brought lots of people to trails in Acadia that are accessible from roads that are open, the park issued a public safety advisory Monday.
“We are concerned that recent visitation patterns have been in violation of CDC recommendations,” the advisory states. “If you need to drive more than 30 minutes to reach a park trailhead, consider staying closer to home to enjoy fresh air and outdoor activity. Many local neighborhoods are walkable or have trails nearby accessed by foot or bicycle.”
Some hotels and other lodging businesses have reported lots of cancellations this week, while others have new bookings from people hoping to get out of the cities.
Those in the latter group, Councilor Matt Hochman said, are probably “not coming to be quarantined for 14 days. They’re coming to be out and about in the park.”
The unbridged island communities of the Cranberry Isles and Swan’s Island have acted to discourage visitors. The towns are requiring that anyone returning to those islands from travel, or summer residents arriving, self-quarantine for two weeks.
“Perhaps hotel owners can tell people making reservations from out of state that they can come here but will need to quarantine. Maybe that will push them to stay where they are, which is what they should be doing anyway,” Dr. Mary Dudzik, a family practice physician who lives in Bar Harbor and practices in Jonesport, wrote to the Bar Harbor Town Council and the Boards of Selectmen in Mount Desert, Southwest Harbor and Tremont.
“You must not be afraid to appear that you are overreacting, or that taking stances like this will diminish tourism and the future economy,” Dudzik wrote. “Right now economies all over the world are on hold. We need to limit disease and save as many lives as possible.”