The secret is out about Acadia National Park. With more than 100 years of history behind it, the park draws roughly 3.5 million people each year to its peaks, carriage roads and green spaces. The sweeping vistas from nearly every mile of the park’s loop road are a sight to behold. It is no surprise that people come in large numbers to experience it.
But, like many success stories, there can be unintended consequences. For Acadia National Park, its success has led to the need to manage traffic flow better and the need for a registration system that has made the locals bristle. We get it. No longer can you take a spur-of-the-moment drive up Cadillac Mountain. For many, that is tough to swallow.
The Maine Office of Tourism estimates that in 2020, more than 86 percent of people who entered the park drove vehicles. And 75 percent of those who came into the park were from Maine and surrounding New England states, such as Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Connecticut.
With an influx of 3.5 million people to an island that has a year-round population of roughly 10,000 people, it can feel rather congested. As COVID-19 wanes and people look to satiate their pent-up urges to travel, they are choosing places like Acadia National Park and they are staying on Mount Desert Island.
This week we learned of some metrics that showed just how busy it has been –giving some context to the fact that it is nearly impossible to take a left-hand turn anywhere in downtown Bar Harbor.
In June, parking meter revenue was up, up, up. At $402,772, it smashed last year’s total of $75,314, as well as the pre-COVID 2019 figure of $283,843. This year there are even less meters to collect from because downtown businesses took the town up on its offer to create parklets, which use up parking spaces.
In a similar vein, Acadia National Park reported record visitation numbers from May (June is not yet available) – up 214 percent from 2020, a year that was sharply curtailed by the pandemic. But it also beat the previous record set in May 2018 by about 30 percent. Or about 75,000 visits.
As the number of people in Bar Harbor, Acadia National Park and Mount Desert Island continues to swell during the summer months, more needs to be done to move people around the island and through the park. Reduced Island Explorer bus service over the last two years has shown just how valuable those shuttle rides around MDI are.
We urge more support from the community for the Island Explorer system and a multi-town approach to supporting the transporting of people, especially to and from the so-called ‘Quietside’ of the island, whose residents and visitors are sorely missing the service. Prioritizing public transportation will help congestion and visitor frustration and will reduce the need for so many individual vehicles on the island. Plus, it is a win for the environment if vehicle emissions can be reduced.