Acadia National Park is on pace to attract the most visitors in about 20 years, new federal statistics indicate.
According to new statistics from the National Park Service, total visitors to the Maine national park jumped by 4.3 percent through September to 2.202 million, the largest percentage increase since the end of the recession in 2010, possibly partly because of an improving economy, good weather and a burst of positive national publicity.
“The stellar weather this year definitely had a hand in the high visitation,” Stuart West, chief ranger, said in an e-mail. “Since the bulk of our visitors are within a day’s travel, the park’s visitation is usually reflective of the weather.”
People who arrive on cruise ships also played a role in the increase, West said.
Acadia National Park visitors are on track to total around 2.7 million visitors this calendar year, the most in nearly 20 years, judging by the number of visitors for the last three months in some prior years, according to the federal statistics .
“Cruise ships, weather, media attention, better economy,” said Charlie Jacobi, natural resource specialist for Acadia National Park, listing the reasons for the jump in visitors.
Camping this summer at Acadia National Park also increased substantially.
Visitors to Mount Desert Island – the location for most of the park – increased by 5.3 percent through September, according to statistics provided by the National Park Service.
A total of 2.202 million people visited through September to all parts of the park, up from 2.111 million in 2013.
There were 1.978 million visitors to Mount Desert Island, an increase from 1.878 million in 2013.
West said the number of visitors to Acadia is quite a bit higher than the official federal numbers would indicate because the statistics do not account for the park’s share of the estimated 400,000 riders using the fare-free Island Explorer shuttle bus system.
West said the park would attempt to work with Downeast Transportation, the operator of the Island Explorer buses, to determine an accurate way to count the number of visitors entering the park on the bus system.
Being named “favorite place” and “No. 1” helps numbers
National media coverage could have helped increase visitors.
People flocked into the park after viewers of “Good Morning America” named Acadia their favorite place in early July. Acadia was also ranked the No. 1 national park in a July poll of USA Today readers, ahead of Glacier National Park, which was second, and Yellowstone, third.
West suggested the media attention might have more of a lagging effect, saying it will likely bring many more people to the park next year.
In July, visitors to the park on Mount Desert Island were up by 6 percent to 512,738.
With sites such as Sand Beach, Eagle Lake, the Bass Head Harbor Lighthouse (the only lighthouse on Mt. Desert); 1,530-foot Cadillac Mountain (the tallest mountain on the US east coast), pink granite cliffs and 45 miles of carriage trails for bicyclists and 125 miles of hiking trails, the park seemed to be more popular than ever in 2014.
One new visitor to Acadia this year was Greg Saulmon, assistant managing editor, digital & multimedia, for The Republican newspaper of Springfield, Mass. “I am already talking to some friends about planning another trip to Acadia next October,” said Saulmon, who took the photos featured in this article. “It’s a magical place and I am really looking forward to going back.”
That same magical attraction is helping to boost the numbers for two concession bus companies, Oli’s Trolley and Acadia National Park Tours. Bus passengers for the two companies together rose 41.5 percent to 29,640 through September of this year. That number is included in the park’s visitor statistics.
Camping also grew in demand. Overnight stays for groups, RVs and tents were up by 7 percent at campgrounds such as Blackwoods and Seawall. Seawall tent camping alone saw a 13.6 percent hike through September to 42,657. Total overnight stays for campers rose to 145,944, up 7 percent through September of this year.
West, Acadia’s chief ranger, said it helps that people can reserve sites at the campgrounds. The good weather also played a large role in boosting camper numbers.
Since the statistics for the park compare calendar years 2013 and 2014 through September, they do not include last year’s 16-day federal government shutdown in October, which forced the temporary closure of Acadia and other national park units.
In October of 2013, 94,904 visitors went to the park, down dramatically from 302,932 in October of 2012.
This year marked the largest increase in visitors to Acadia on a percentage basis since 2010. In 2010, following the devastating recession of 2008 and 2009, total visitors were 2.169 million through September, up 13.2 percent.
Acadia could draw the most visitors since 2.760 million came to the park in 1997, according to federal visitation statistics that stretch back to 1919.
This year’s numbers might also rival the 25-year high of 2.845 million in 1995.
Schoodic Peninsula, the only part of the park on the mainland, bucked the trend. Through September this year, visitors totaled 147,398, down 6 percent.
Jacobi, Acadia natural resource specialist who works a lot with visitation statistics, said the Schoodic traffic counter has been a problem this year since a lightning strike in January. Many months are estimates, he said.
West said he expects visitors to Schoodic could increase with the planned opening of the Schoodic Woods Campground in the late summer of 2015.
Visitors also declined on Isle au Haut, down 9 percent through September to 7,735.