The Acadia Centennial has helped attract more than 3.2 million visitors so far to the national park this year, capped by record attendance for October.
An eye-popping 412,416 people visited during October, up 19.8 percent from last year’s monthly record of 344,362, according to statistics from the National Park Service.
Through October, visitors during the Acadia Centennial totaled 3.234 million, up 17.7 percent from last year. Depending on the weather, visitation could total 3.3 million for this year, said John T. Kelly, management assistant for Acadia National Park.
Kelly said visitation this year reached 3 million for the first time since at least 1990, when the park changed the way it counts visitors. The previous record since 1990 was 2.845 million in 1995, according to the federal statistics.
Some good aspects of the crowds are that people came to enjoy the park and the park therefore collected more revenues from entrance fees, but the downsides include traffic congestion during peak periods.
Visitation during the summer of the Acadia Centennial produced some staggering numbers. In September, visitation was 570,434, up 19 percent from the same month last year; August, 735,945, up 10 percent; July, 696,854, up 15 percent; and June, 445,410 up 24 percent.
Visitors to the Schoodic Peninsula, the only section of the park on the mainland, reached 276,233 through October, up 31 percent from 210,549 during the same 10 months last year. More people went to Schoodic because of the new Schoodic Woods Campground and more than 8 miles of new bike paths.
Acadia Centennial crowds show ‘satisfaction’ and ‘bad experiences’
Kelly said officials are excited that many people came to the park and that it reflects a “pretty high satisfaction rate,” but visitors also encountered some “bad experiences” with traffic congestion.
He said the park, for example, became so crowded during peak times that the summit of Cadillac Mountain was closed to traffic 12 times by the park.
The parking lot on the 1,530-foot peak of Cadillac is closed when traffic backs up bumper to bumper at the Blue Hill Overlook, about a quarter mile from the summit. Traffic is closed for 30 minutes to an hour at the start of the Cadillac Summit Road.
As part of a new transportation plan that will be finalized in the fall of 2018, officials are considering a reservation system for cars to park at the Cadillac summit during times of peak visitation, Kelly said.
The reservation system for Cadillac is among several preliminary ideas to ease traffic congestion.
A draft transportation plan and draft Environmental Impact Statement is expected to be released early next year. The park is in the early stages of studying other measures such as a reservation system for parking at the Jordan Pond House, eliminating parking in the right hand lane on the one-way section of the Park Loop Road to improve Acadia traffic flow and allowing cars to enter Ocean Drive past the entrance station until certain thresholds for parking and road volumes are reached.
While he said “your guess is as good as mine,” Kelly attributed the strong attendance to marketing and promotions about this year’s centennials of both the National Park Service and Acadia. The National Park Service turned 100 on August 25, 2016, while the Acadia Centennial was celebrated on July 8, the anniversary of the park’s founding as a national monument.
Other national parks also drew big crowds. In California, for example, Yosemite drew 4.6 million through October, a 20 percent increase.
Kelly also speculated that the hot sunny weather during the drought encouraged people to visit during the Acadia Centennial year. “It is a very weather dependent park,” he said.
Relatively low gas prices and the good economy also likely played roles in drawing visitors, he said.
At this point, officials cannot predict if attendance will top 3 million next year, but Kelly said the marketing for the centennial could carry over to future years.