ACADIA NAT’L PARK — The park is on pace to break its all-time annual visitation record of 3.3 million, which was set last year.
Through Aug. 31, the visitor count was slightly more than 2.3 million, a four percent increase over the first eight months of last year. But there is a wrinkle.
Prior to this year, people riding the fare-free Island Explorer buses in Acadia were not counted as park visitors. Now, passengers are counted when they get off a bus somewhere in the park.
“That’s going to make for a relatively small change in our numbers,” Superintendent Kevin Schneider said last week. “It will probably show us being ahead of last year’s visitation, but in reality, we’re probably flat with last year.”
The numbers for the first eight months of this year, which the park reported a few days later, confirmed that assessment. Through August, 115,117 bus passengers were counted among the park’s estimated 2.3 million visitors. If the bus riders had not been counted, the visitation total would have been 25,329 less than in the first eight months of 2016.
How visitors are counted
The park calculates visitation each month using primarily two sources of data. One is an electronic traffic counter on the Park Loop Road near Sand Beach. That number is multiplied by a monthly “vehicle expansion multiplier” to account for vehicles in the park on a given day that do not pass over the traffic counter. That expanded vehicle number is then multiplied by a “persons-per-vehicle” average.
The number of tour bus passengers who are counted as park visitors, including those on cruise ship buses, is based on passenger counts submitted by local sightseeing tour operators and by the average number of passengers for the different sizes of motor coaches that buy commercial vehicle entrance passes. That total is up 36.6 percent so far this year.
Explorer on record pace
Schneider said that when the Island Explorer started running in 1999, the park probably didn’t change its visitor-counting method to include bus riders because no one had any idea how popular the bus service would become.
It is now extremely popular, with more and more riders every year.
Between June 23 of this year, when the buses started running, and Sept. 11, the Island Explorer recorded 500,215 passenger trips, an increase of nearly 7,000 over the same period last year. And last year was a record breaker, with 575,397 passenger trips for the entire season, a 9 percent increase over 2015. The Island Explorer season runs through Columbus Day weekend.
Schoodic up, MDI down
This year, through August, the section of Acadia on the Schoodic Peninsula saw a 3.9 percent increase in visitation over last year. The Isle au Haut section was up 1.9 percent.
Most of Acadia is on Mount Desert Island, and that’s where most of the visitors are. Through August, the park’s MDI visitation was 1.96 million, a drop of 2.3 percent from the first eight months of 2016. For just the month of August, the MDI visitation count was down 4.4 percent, to 762,436.
As for the park’s four campgrounds – Blackwoods, Seawall, Schoodic Woods and Isle au Haut – the estimated number of overnight stays through August was 1.8 percent higher than in the same period last year.