Bar Harbor’s arguments over cruise ship visitation and how the former ferry terminal property should be used made another splash over the weekend, with a New York Times article titled, in the print version, “Cruise Ships May Be Ruining the Appeal of Maine’s Bar Harbor.”
The debate over, as the article has it, “how to maintain [the town’s] essence when crowds threaten the very qualities they come to enjoy” is the right one for us to be having and will not go away anytime soon. But some persistent misinformation found its way into the Times piece, as did an unfortunate, classist dichotomy between the self-appointed gatekeepers of this place and the much-maligned owners of T-shirt and ice cream shops.
Islander readers are aware that voters in Southwest Harbor and Tremont have enacted only moratoria, not bans, on cruise ship visitation.
As for closures of the Cadillac Mountain summit due to traffic, there were 12 such closures on 10 days in 2016. Only a third of those, four out of 12, were on days and times that passengers from large (more than 100 passengers) cruise ships were ashore here. The closures may have increased in 2017, but also, as has been noted in these pages, some bus tours are coming from Rockland, Bucksport and beyond.
Perhaps most importantly, misleading figures for the number of ship visits, which appear to have been reported first by CruiseMaine, made an appearance in the Times article: “The number of cruise ships visiting Bar Harbor reached 163 in 2017, up from 105 in 2016.” That would be an increase of more than 50 percent.
The truth is much less dramatic.
The number cited for cruise ship visits in 2017 was the number of visits scheduled at the beginning of the season. Every year, several scheduled visits are cancelled, mostly due to weather. 148 ship visits actually happened in 2017. That’s significantly more than the year before, but only 22 more than the previous high of 126 visits in 2013. Also, the 105 ship visits in 2016 was fewer than in any year since 2009.
Thanks to a new reporting form prepared by the Cruise Ship Committee, more and better data will be available beginning in the 2017 season, including how many passengers actually get off the boat during each ship visit.
There’s no denying that the town and the park are crowded in peak tourist season. And cruise passengers arrive in large numbers, concentrated in time and space. But the streets are still packed at 8 p.m. after the ships have left for the day. Acadia has millions of visitors arriving in personal vehicles.
Bar Harbor’s leaders should continue to listen to concerns from those who live, work and visit here. But the congestion issue is bigger than cruise ship numbers, and finger-pointing will not create any new solutions.