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National Parks Expect Record Attendance, Congestion This Year

Acadia Overcrowding
Robert F. Bukaty/AP
In July 31, 2018, visitors to Maine's Acadia National Park gather to watch the sunrise on top of Cadillac Mountain. The park recently unveiled a plan for a "timed-entry reservation system" to manage parking at some of the park's most popular attractions.

The Senate’s National Parks Committee, chaired by Maine Independent Angus King, is projecting record attendance this year after a decline during the Covid-19 pandemic. The panel is also anticipating record congestion in the parks this year.

Panelists told the committee they expect most national parks will see record attendance this year as Americans try to make up for lost vacations last year. Senator King pointed to photos in the hearing room of long lines of cars and people at the parks and questioned acting director of the National Park Service Shawn Benge about efforts this year to address congestion.

“Real time messaging on congestion is also a tool, so you know the parking lot is full before you get there," Benge said. "And in some cases we are also considering limiting time and limiting numbers.”

Benge says some parks will have to limit parking and there will likely have to be more use of use of busses to reduce motor vehicle congestion. The park service is also urging people to choose some of the less-visited parks.

“How do we balance public access to the maximum number of Americans with not compromising the experience by virtue of all those Americans coming to visit their parks?" King said.

King said he will schedule a hearing later this year focused specifically on park congestion and how to handle it.

Journalist Mal Leary spearheads Maine Public's news coverage of politics and government and is based at the State House.