Parks and beaches throughout the state have become even more popular than usual for people looking to get out of the house and combat the isolation of social distancing.
But so many have flocked to Acadia National Park that this week Superintendent Kevin Schneider took the unusual step of closing the park. Schneider told Maine Public’s Nora Flaherty that it needed to happen to protect visitors and staff.
Schneider: We have seen increasing numbers of visitors here in the park, particularly last weekend. Cars were spilling out of parking lots, Sand Beach parking area was full. The beaches were full. And this is the kind of stuff that starts to make us concerned about people's ability to social distance and to maintain the requirements of the CDC.
Flaherty: Was there any particular moment when it became clear that closing the park needed to happen?
Schneider: Well, for example, we don't have restrooms available for people right now, and it's not safe for our staff to be able to clean those restrooms and maintain them to the CDC standards right now of having high quality, you know, disinfected restrooms that are getting used by the public. And we were finding our staff was going to clean those restrooms and was getting sort of overwhelmed with visitors wanting to ask questions and get information. And this just isn't the right time to be doing that kind of thing. These are small communities, and they're not able to support this level of visitation. You know, restaurants are closed here, bars are closed. And it's obvious that these small communities with small health care systems are just not able to support the kind of visitation that we normally see here at Acadia.
Flaherty: And did you get any guidance from the National Park Service in making this decision?
Schneider: Well, the National Park Service nationwide is seeing varying efforts to, you know, in some cases close parks, in some cases modify operations at parks. And so, you know, there's support across the country for doing these kinds of actions in consultation with local government, with the state government and with the CDC.
Flaherty: Now, you mentioned that the local communities really can't handle this level of visitation right now. The closure of the park, do you expect that's going to influence the towns and businesses nearby that are relying on park visitors? Or are things pretty well shut down?
Schneider: Well, the community right now is very much in off season mode and especially with the closure to restaurants and pubs and that sort of thing. And so, you know, the town, the towns here are quiet. These are small towns. And it is very much off season still here in these communities.
Flaherty: When things begin to calm down a little bit, maybe, what information will the park use to determine that it's time to reopen?
Schneider: Well, we will continue to consult with the Center for Disease Control with our state and local public health authorities, with the local governments here and state government as well. And ultimately, we want to get the park reopened as soon as it's safe to do so.
Flaherty: When the decision was made at the federal level to encourage people to come to the national parks were you anticipating that these problems would arise?
Schneider: Well, I think none of us have seen this kind of a pandemic before. I mean, this is not something I've ever experienced in my career. And so I think people are cooped up, and they want to get outside. I know, you know, my family certainly, as you know, my kids are out of school. And so they're getting outside when they can. You know, getting people outdoors is vital. And we know that being outside is conducive to your immune system and helps promote your immune system. And we certainly want people to get outside and get some exercise. You know, I think we're just encouraging people to stay local, you know, walk in your neighborhood, walk to a local park and maintain your social distancing.
Ed note: interview has been edited for length and clarity.