Acadia National Park is set to draw more than 2.7 million visitors for the first time since 1997, after attracting the most-ever number of October visitors, breaking that monthly record for the second year in a row, according to park statistics.
Through the first 10 months of this year, park visitation totaled 2,693,840, already more than the 2,563,129 for all of last year.
If the park draws the same amount of visitors it attracted last year in November and December, – 31,013 in November and 13,510 in December – it would total 2,738,363, cracking 2.7 million for the first time since 1997, when it drew 2,760,330, according to National Park statistics.
The summer months showed strong visitation for the park. September totaled, 462,742, up 10.7 percent from September of 2014; August, 658,253, up 3.1 percent; July, 592,137, up 5.5 percent and June, 354,035, up 4.5 percent.
In an email, Charlie Jacobi, natural resource specialist for the park, who works with visitation statistics, said he was “pretty sure we will top 2.7m now,” when asked about visitor totals for this year.
“I can’t attribute this to any one thing,” he said.
He did say “it’s all you mentioned,” when asked if the strong economy, nice weather, good national publicity from 2014 and cruise ship visitors were factors.
Climate change may be contributing to record October visitation
Jacobi has confirmed that October of last year was a record for visitors for the month. October of this year saw even more visitors.
For September and October, it may be the weather and specifically climate change, he said.
“A recent study showed a strong relationship between temperature and visitation to the national parks,” he added.
He did say he had not looked specifically at monthly average temps for September and October compared to previous years.
According to a June study by the U.S. National Park Service, “Protected Area Tourism in a Changing Climate: Will Visitation at US National Parks Warm Up or Overheat?”, visitation for the entire park system generally increased with increasing average monthly temperatures.
“Researchers considered the relationship between historical long-term temperature averages and park visitation numbers, identified parks where visits were influenced by temperature, and used these data and projected greenhouse gas concentrations to estimate future park visitation,” said an article on the study on NOAA’s Climate.gov. “Overall, warming temperatures are projected to increase total annual visits to most parks.”
The increase is straining park services, creating heavy traffic at peak times, and causing strong overflows at parking lots for trails and the carriage roads. The fare-free Island Explorer bus that runs in season through Columbus Day also saw records broken in 2015, with more than 533,000 passengers.
As a result, park officials this year launched a long-range transportation planning process, looking at everything from how to manage traffic hot spots like the top of Cadillac and the Park Loop Road, to expanding ferry service to the less-crowded Schoodic Peninsula section of the park, to more car-free days.
Last year, Acadia was selected America’s favorite place by viewers of “Good Morning America” and the No. 1 National Park by readers of USA Today.
Acadia will be celebrating its Centennial next year, so maybe new visitor records are in sight.