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Acadia National Park saw a record 4 million visits in 2021

Interior Secretary Maine
Robert F. Bukaty
/
AP
Visitors watch a wave crash at Schoodic Point in Acadia National Park, Friday, June 18, 2021, near Winter Harbor, Maine. Cadillac Mountain is seen in the background.

Acadia National Park saw a record four million estimated visits in 2021 - a half-million more than in any other year. Park advocates said systems were strained, sometimes beyond breaking, and they're raising alarms about what the future may hold.

David MacDonald, president of the friends of Acadia, said the trend became pretty apparent during the shoulder seasons outside of high summer.

"It was unusual to look out the window in the middle of June and see all the parking lots full and downtown Bar Harbor really full; that wasn't the case a few years ago," MacDonald said.

He says numbers increased marginally in July and August, and added requirements for reservations to drive to the top of Cadillac Mountain proved their worth at a time when the pandemic is scaring people away from public transport. But MacDonald said that as soon as that reservation program ended in early October, hundreds of cars overwhelmed the road.

"I am concerned about the numbers, the scale of this increase. I don't think it's sustainable. I think the visitor experience will eventually be impacted, as will park resources," MacDonald said.

MacDonald said that park managers and stakeholders do have some tactics to deploy in future years, including reservation requirements for other high-traffic areas. He also noted that in 2021, almost all visitors were domestic, with the cruise ship industry shut down and international travel restricted. A citizens group in Bar Harbor said it will mount a new campaign to restrict cruise ship visits in 2022.

A Columbia University graduate, Fred began his journalism career as a print reporter in Vermont, then came to Maine Public in 2001 as its political reporter, as well as serving as a host for a variety of Maine Public Radio and Maine Public Television programs. Fred later went on to become news director for New England Public Radio in Western Massachusetts and worked as a freelancer for National Public Radio and a number of regional public radio stations, including WBUR in Boston and NHPR in New Hampshire.