UPDATED 5/2/2017: Story adds a statement from Acadia Superintendent Kevin Schneider.
A new report on the economic benefits of national parks shows that a record number of visitors to Acadia National Park last year injected about $274 million into the regional economy.
The report, released by the National Park Service, documents the powerful financial benefits of national parks during the Centennial celebration of the founding of the system and Acadia.
The report said Acadia contributed $274.2 million in visitor spending, up almost 11% from 2015 and 36.5% from $200.9 million in 2012. The park supported 4,195 full and part-time jobs last year, up nearly 8% from 2015.
That spending, along with the jobs, had a cumulative benefit to the local economy of $333 million, the park said in a release on Tuesday.
“Acadia National Park’s extraordinary beauty and recreational opportunities attracted a record number of visitors in 2016 making it the eighth most-visited national park in the country,” said Superintendent Kevin Schneider in a statement. “We value our relationship with the neighboring communities and appreciate the services and amenities they provide to park visitors.”
The report shows how Acadia and other national park units across the nation are economic engines for gateway communities, or those within 60 miles of a park.
Eight sectors contributed to the $274.2 million spending around Acadia, including hotels, $89.7 million, or 33% of the total; restaurants and bars, $49.6 million, or 18%; gas, $28.4 million, or 10%; the recreation industry, $26.3 million or 9.5%; retail, $26.9 million, or 10% and the rest from transportation, groceries and camping, the report said.
The report is a testament to the tangible economic benefits of national parks to communities across the nation, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke said in a statement, while releasing the report earlier this month. “Visitation numbers continue to rise because people want to experience these majestic public lands,” he said.
Zinke, a former U.S. House member from Montana, said that in his hometown of Whitefish, Mont., he has seen firsthand how the popularity of Glacier National Park sparked growth of the local outdoor recreation and eco-tourism industries.
Benefits of national parks report followed by Trump proposed cuts
The report did not include the new Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, located about a two-hour drive north of Acadia and one hour north of Bangor. The report did include Saint Croix Island in Maine, which received 13,856 visitors last year and contributed $810,000 in spending and 12 jobs.
Soon after the report’s release, President Donald J. Trump faced criticism from some park supporters and environmental activists for signing an executive order this week for Zinke to review some national monuments created since Jan.1, 1996 that are at least 100,000 acres. The order appears to cover about 25 monuments, but not Katahdin Woods since it is less than 100,000 acres, though the order does give Zinke the option to review monuments made “without adequate public outreach and coordination with relevant stakeholders.”
Trump is also taking heat for proposing a 12% budget cut to the Interior Department, though his budget for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1 would increase money for maintenance to the parks, according to the National Parks Conservation Association, whose budget director said Trump’s plan is “a non-starter for our national parks.”
Benefits of national parks also come with downside: Traffic, crowds
Because of the growing popularity of Acadia, the National Park Service is hiring up to five “visitor service assistants” to help manage traffic and parking this summer and fall at the busiest locations during peak times including 1,530-foot Cadillac Mountain, Jordan Pond and Sand Beach. The park is also preparing a new transportation plan that is set to be finalized in the fall of 2018 and could include a possible car reservation system parking at the Cadillac summit during times of peak visitation.
The park is weighing 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.
Last year, 3,303,394 million people went into Acadia, the most since at least 1990, when the park changed the way it counts visitors, an increase of 500,000 or about 6.5% from about 2.8 million in 2015.
The NPS compiles detailed visitation data for each of 376 of the 417 National Park units in the country, including two in Maine, and publishes the data annually.
According to the report, called 2016 National Park Visitor Spending Effects, U.S. parks set a new record in 2016 with 331 million recreation visits, a 7.7% increase from the previous record in 2015. That visitation contributed $34.9 billion to the US economy, according to the report.
In 2016, 77 parks set new records for annual recreation visits, and four parks received more than 10 million recreation visits.The NPS Centennial, the NPS Find Your Park marketing campaign, and good travel weather contributed to this record setting visitation, the report said.
The NPS counts visits as the number of individuals who enter the park each day. For example, a family of four taking a week-long vacation to Acadia and staying at a motel outside of the park would be counted as 28 visits, or four individuals who enter the park on seven different days. A different family of four, also taking a week-long vacation to Acadia but staying within the park, would be counted as four visits, or four individuals who enter the park on a single day and then stay within the park for the remainder of their trip, according to the report.
The National Park Service began the refined visitor spending effects analysis model in 2012.